**A new craze****A fatal mistake****A slim chance****A waste of time and money****All numbers are random****Small gains and a big gain****Absent-minded****Magic numbers: a closed secret**

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** The secret of numbers**

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As the number of people pinning their hopes on winning the Lottery soars, David Jones investigates their chances of winning.

- Britain’s latest national sport seems to have caught the imagination of millions of people up and down the country. The first studies published, however, do seem to suggest that it is the less well-off who spend more on the Lottery. What chance do they have of winning the countless millions they dream of?
- The winning numbers for all lotteries are chosen at random. Everyone has to believe that their numbers have as good a chance as any of coming up. The fact is that a combination like 123456 has as much chance of coming up as any other, but people still prefer a group of numbers with a completely random sequence, such as 20452732 11 43 17.
- Nevertheless, every week about ten thousand people do choose the number 123456 when they play in the Lottery. Bearing in mind that the National Lottery is shared every week among all the ticket holders with the winning number, this means that when 123456 does finally come up (and it is likely to do so in the next 250 000 years), the winners will receive, by today’s standards, between one and four pounds each.
- Now consider these numbers:

** **7 17 23 32 38 42 12 15 26 44 46 49

What is the difference between these numbers? The answer is 17 280 000 pounds. The first number won the Lottery on the 15^{th} of January and there were 133 winners – they won 122 000 pounds each. The second sequence came up in the Lottery of the 10^{th} of June and was won by only a single ticket, whose happy owner won 17.4 million pounds.

**Е****.** The conclusion is that if we knew the secret of numbers, it would be worth quite a lot of money. Sadly, we don’t – there is no statistical explanation for this difference. There is no reason why one number be more likely to come up than another, though you wouldn’t have thought so, looking at the careful way in which people choose their lottery tickets.

- Again, what is the difference between numbers 14 24 33 38 42 47 and 14 17 22 24 42 47? The answer, in this case, is life and death. The first sequence represents the numbers played every week by Tim O’Brien and Steve Sumner, until O’Brien’s death last June. The second series of numbers is that which came up the night before he died. O’Brien had forgotten to renew his ticket and, believing that he had lost his share of the jackpot (a share was around two million pounds), he committed suicide the next day.
- The numbers, however, do not match. Indeed, it is hard to see how anyone could think that they did match. All that they have in common (apart from the four numbers that they share) is a random ‘look’, but this was enough for the unfortunate O’Brien. In fact, he had lost, or would have lost, only 54 pounds, which was the prize for matching four numbers out of six. Numbers are lucky for some but they can be fatal for others.

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