[Q] I’ve been analysing all my past lottery results over the years and whilst I know these things are supposed to be random, there is a pattern.

Some numbers have definitely been drawn more often than others, and some have definitely appeared in the jackpot combination more than others. Should I play those numbers?

[A] You’re absolutely right.

Do you remember rolling a dice at school and charting the results? You tallied up each number as it was rolled, and then drew a little bar graph of the results. And the graph made pretty much a straight line proving that all the numbers had the same chance of being rolled.

Or did it?

Actually your graph was pretty wonky – oh yes it was! But don’t take offense, I’m sure you drew yours just as well as I did ;-). But all of our graphs were actually pretty wonky, and wonky in different ways too. If we took all our results together and drew another graph then we’d have one that was smoother, but still not perfectly straight.

We all get caught up in what we think we learned about ‘averages’.

But the fact is if you take any set of past results from any lottery for any period in time, you will find the same thing. Some results appear more or less often than others – a wonky graph. And that’s because this is exactly the sort of result that is entirely normal for a random process. If it were not possible for this to happen then the results would not be random.

With randomness if you actually repeat the ‘test’ enough times then every possible set of results would happen. Not just every result, but every different wonky graph for each set of results you pull out. So everything from never winning a single thing on the lottery, to hitting the jackpot every single draw for your whole life!

This is how random works. Just because the current state of play is ‘less likely than the true average’ does not mean there is anything unusual going on.

The weak point in the chain here is actually our brains – they love to see patterns in randomness. That’s the nature of our brains, we just can’t help trying to make a nice comfortable order out of things. And when it happens to be numbers we’re trying to make order of we’re even worse than ever!

So the real question here is not which numbers to play as a result of all this analysis, but whether the past results have anything useful to reveal to us in the first place. And the fact is, they don’t.

Jon// Nov 15, 2012 at 10:42 pmI don’t know why the odds of hitting the jackpot are set at 1 in 175,711,536 ? That seems to be way too high and contradicts the n! principle of available combinations. Why is it not 1 in 21,085,384,320 as given by 56x55x54x53x52x46 ? I’m not interested in just hitting any winning number, but just that one jackpot number. Either case, a person’s chances of taking all the vacuum cleaner bag’s dust, compressing it infinitely, and creating their own little Universe is better than hitting the lottery. However, if one is not holding a number, then the odds are |O|,

Lottery-Guy.com// Nov 15, 2012 at 4:22 pmAh, that’s because the order the numbers are drawn out does not matter. So you also have to divide by the number of ways the same combinations can happen (if that makes sense) to eliminate them, before you multiply by the 46 – there’s an example in my odds of winning Mega Millions post.

Cynthia// Nov 28, 2012 at 7:10 pmWe must also take into account that before the official numbers are drawn the machine is checked for accuracy at least 3-4 times so you may have had the winning numbers in those draws. Just didnt count.

Twentyonefeet// Oct 23, 2013 at 12:40 amHow would doing drawings test for accuracy? Accuracy in what? You throw some balls in the machine, let it run long enough to mix em’ up, and then hit the button to let the balls pop out. And running it “3-4 times” sounds like it’s fixed for a particular result. Of course, I would not be surprised to learn there are little tiny electro-magnets in each ball that can be activated remotely.

Doug Boseman// Jun 4, 2013 at 5:56 pmI had a theory about the balls with more paint on them being either more likely or less likely to come up or out (are the machines designed to account 4 weight) if not random is out of the question. Every edge is a lot of help add them all together and I have won the jackpot! What took yall so long to even discuss this?

LG// Jun 5, 2013 at 12:03 amHey Doug,

It would be great if we could rely on factors like this to give us even the tiniest edge :-).

But lottery companies have machines and balls built to very tight tolerances. They monitor and audit them. And they change/repair them without notifying us. You can even argue that heavier balls would wear faster and therefore end up losing any bias over time..!

Then there’s all the changeable factors we can’t even begin to monitor.

I’d love to join the ‘believers’, but (significantly) none of them have ever been able to prove any bias has given them an edge. And I just don’t love playing with spreadsheets enough to join them for the fun of it

Brian// Jun 8, 2013 at 7:41 pmMost of what you say is true. However, the past results do ,indeed, have something useful for us. Personally, I’ve been doing so with great success. In fact, if we didn’t rely on past draws then we would have very little to go on. Therefore, we have to .

LG// Jun 11, 2013 at 10:22 pmSorry Brian but in all my years I’ve never seen anyone prove any value in past results for prediction.

People often think they have ‘something’ but it always turns out to be either 1. they don’t know how to identify a significant result, or 2. they have convinced themselves that ‘it works sometimes’ which is just luck at play (and points to 1. again!).

Of course you may have something different… But in reality it’s totally logical that past results cannot help – it is the way the game is supposed to be by design. And any potential bias is so small and changeable itself that it’s totally untrackable in reality.

Larry// Aug 28, 2013 at 5:25 pmI was just reading this on patterns. I’ve developed some code utilizing Excel and the past drawing numbers. I play mainly Texas Two Step and Powerball. I win Many small pots at least 6 times a month includIng $7, $100 and $10,000 so…, IMHO they paint a pretty picture.

LG// Aug 28, 2013 at 6:20 pmHey Larry

But it doesn’t paint the whole picture though.

Last year a woman bought her fist ever lottery ticket and won $1m on Powerball. If she said she used a spreadsheet to pick her numbers, would that mean she had a working system..?

I know that’s an extreme example. But the point is, you can’t say your spreadsheet makes any difference unless you prove there is some statistical significance to the results.

We’re easily drawn into placing extra significance on wins, but without the full picture I can only congratulate you on your luck – not your spreadsheet

For fun, why not also play the same number of quick picks alongside your spreadsheet based selections, and see how they compare? You don’t have to buy them, you can always just play them on paper.

Pascal// Apr 27, 2014 at 9:44 amI believe in past result for a clue simply because past result can give you a particular pattern to stick to. All syndicates operators must build their system on a pattern that has won a jackpot before from the past results. The same theory is used by Wall Street gurus ie charts, graphs etc. I have a clue for EuroMillions but we will need at least 100 people to win the jackpot every month. Yes I mean it.

LG// Apr 27, 2014 at 6:33 pmHi Pascal

It would be nice if we could predict lottery numbers from past results, but nobody has ever been able to prove it (despite all the people selling systems that claim they can).

But good luck anyway