How to Play the Lottery


The roots of lotteries go down deep and spread far. "Casting lots" is even mentioned in the Bible. The first lottery to offer cash prizes probably originated in Florence, Italy, in the 16th century. It was dubbed Lotto de Firenze, and it quickly spread to other Italian cities. The game, as well as the name, caught on. Italy's national lottery is still called Lotto, as are those in the U.S. and many other countries.

During Colonial times, lotteries were all the rage in America. Most were held for charitable or civic purposes, such as building churches, bridges, and schools. But lotteries fell into disfavor by the mid-19th century. Things changed in the second half of the 20th century. New Hampshire was the forerunner, holding its first lottery in 1964. Other states gradually followed suit. In the '80s and particularly the '90s, the ancient game became hotter than a two-dollar pistol.

You'll see people of all ages and from all walks of life picking and scratching (picking numbers and scratching off instant tickets, that is). In the United States, total annual lottery sales have grown into the billions of dollars. In many states, all it costs to take a chance on changing your life forever is $1. Where else can you buy a dream for a dollar?

Remember, no person, system, or article can truthfully guarantee to make you a lottery winner. What this article provides is a brief overview of the different games and how they're played. It gives you a slew of ideas and tips on what to do and what to avoid. There's even advice on what to do if you win. For the most part, it presents a host of number-picking strategies to help you overcome those long odds.

So choose a system, have some fun, and take a chance. You just might end up a millionaire.

Types of Lottery Games

New types of lottery games are popping up more and more frequently. But the basics remain Lotto, Little Lottos, Dailies, Multi-State Games, and Instant Games. The Instant Games are scratch-off tickets, while the other lottery games are on-line games because they consist of computer-generated tickets.

Let's look at the various games lottery players love to play, beginning with Lotto, which has become the most popular of all lottery games.

Lotto
In Lotto, six numbers are drawn from a range of numbers (such as 42, 46, 47, 49, 51, and 54). Michigan, for instance, has a 6-out-of-47 game (6/47), meaning that six numbers are drawn from a possible 47. Florida's Lotto is 6/53, meaning that six numbers are drawn from a possible 53.

To play Lotto, indicate your six chosen numbers by marking the numbered squares on a play slip. Then take the play slip to a lottery retailer (or agent). The retailer enters your selection in the on-line terminal, which produces your game ticket. The ticket, not the play slip, is the official receipt and must be presented and validated in the event of a win. Always check to make sure that the correct date and numbers are on the game ticket before you leave. Lottery agents are found in convenience stores, gas stations, and grocery stores.

The cost for one chance at Lotto is still $1 in many states. So for one chance, or play, at Lotto, you would pay $1. For five plays -- that is, to play five sets of numbers--you would pay $5. Illinois offers a bargain: two plays for $1.

Typically, Lotto drawings are held twice a week, usually on Wednesday and Saturday nights. However, this may not be true for every state.

What's New
in Lottery Games?
In a word -- more. More money (as in larger jackpots), more drawings, and more variety. As you've already learned, some states with large populations -- and large jackpots in their own state games--have joined Mega Millions.

The Dailies might well be called "The Twice Dailies." The Little Lotto drawing used to be a few times a week, but they now might be called "The Dailies." These games, generally speaking, have raised their stakes as well. For example, Minnesota's Gopher 5 changed from 5/39 to 5/47 and New Jersey's Cash 5 went from 5/38 to 5/40.

The trend toward larger jackpots means the odds of winning that jackpot are usually higher. However, the overall odds (of winning a smaller prize) are often lower. Winning the Powerball Jackpot, for example, has gone from nearly 55 million to one, up to 80 million to one, and now to 146 million to one. But it now has nine ways to win.
Even the instant games are getting into the act. Some Scratch-offs have more complexity and more playing areas (thus ways to win) on the same ticket. Of course, these come with a higher price. Instead of only $1 or $2 tickets, now you can choose from $1 to $10 -- and in some states, $20.

The popularity of Powerball-copycat games continues. And in an interesting twist, years ago, Lotto Texas changed from a 6/50 game to 6/54. This upped the previous jackpot odds of nearly 16 million to one to over 25 million to one. Later they changed again to a Bonus-ball-type game with higher odds and bigger jackpots. Due to player disapproval of the Bonus game, however, Texas is now returning to its 6/54 Lotto.

The lottery officials use special ball-drawing machines, and the balls are numbered. The machine randomly shoots out six selected balls; these balls display the winning numbers for that evening's lottery drawing. If all six of your numbers exactly match the numbers drawn, you win the jackpot. In Lotto, your numbers don't need to be listed in any particular order, as long as they match those drawn. If two or more persons correctly pick the six numbers, the winners split the prize money. If no one wins, the prize money rolls over and the jackpot becomes increasingly larger. Not surprisingly, when this occurs, more and more players take part, lured by the huge jackpot.

Now that you know how to play Lotto, you probably want to know how much you can win. The amount of the prize depends upon several factors. Lotto is a pari-mutuel game, meaning the amount of the prize is determined by the total sales for each drawing and the number of winners. Or, if there is no winner, the prize is rolled over, with an increased amount compared to the previous game. The more populous states, such as Texas, New York, and California, will usually have larger jackpots. Shortly after each drawing, your state lottery announces the estimated grand prize amount for the next drawing. Even if you don't match all six numbers, you can still win a prize by matching three, four, or five of the numbers. While the payoff for matching three out of six is small, the odds are better.

Little Lottos
Little Lotto games have better odds and are played more often. The method of play is similar to that of Lotto, but the number of balls drawn and the playing fields are usually lower. For example, in Florida's Fantasy 5 (5/36), the player tries to correctly pick the five numbers drawn from a field of 36. In the Georgia Fantasy 5 (5/39), you must correctly pick the five numbers drawn from a field of 39.

To play a Little Lotto game, select five numbers from your state's field of numbers and mark your play slip. Take the play slip to a lottery agent, who will then give you your game ticket. The game is played the same way as Lotto, with the machine shooting out five selected balls instead of six. If all of your numbers exactly match the numbers drawn, you win a Little Lotto jackpot. As in regular Lotto, your numbers do not have to be in the same order as the winning numbers.

In most states, the drawings are held more often with Little Lotto than Lotto. Generally, they are held six or seven days a week. The amount of the prize money for Little Lotto games works the same as Lotto. But since there are fewer "picks" (five) than in Lotto (six), your odds of winning these games are much better. You can also win smaller prize amounts if only three or four of your numbers match.

The Dailies
If you'd like to try your luck every day or are just looking for better odds, then the Pick 3 and Pick 4 might be the games for you. In most states, you can play them twice a day, six days a week, often once a day on Sundays. For Pick 3 (also called Cash 3), players choose any three-digit number from 000 to 999, and for Pick 4 (or Cash 4), any four-digit number from 0000 to 9999. These have their own special play slips, offering several types of plays. The basic plays in most states are: exact order (straight), any order (box), exact/any (straight/box), or combination. Typically, the cost is: exact order -- 50 cents; any order -- 50 cents; exact/any -- $1; and combination -- $3 (since you are actually buying six exact plays).

If you mark any order, you win if your three numbers are drawn -- no matter in what order. If you choose exact/any and your three digits are in the exact order drawn, you win the prize for exact plus the prize for any. Or if you choose the correct numbers, but not in the correct order, you still win the smaller payoff. If you mark combination, you are covering all bets. A combination play gives you all possible exact (straight) combinations of your three numbers on one ticket. Let's say for a Pick 3 game you chose the numbers 4-0-7, and the drawing results are 7-4-0. If you marked exact order, you win nothing.

If you marked any order or exact/any, you win the smaller payoff. If you marked combination, you win the same amount as if you'd bought an exact (straight) ticket. Or you may have chosen the numbers 5-1-6, and the numbers drawn are 5-1-6. If you had marked any order, you would win, but not as much as if you had marked exact order or combination. And if you had purchased an exact/any ticket, you'd win even more.

Unlike Lotto, the payout on most states' daily games is not determined by the pool of players. Pick 3 and Pick 4 usually have fixed prize amounts geared to the odds. In fact, these games are associated with a different set of mathematics than Lotto. The odds in the Dailies are much lower than in Lotto, and so is the payout in case of a win. The odds of picking three digits in exact order on one play are 1,000 to one; the odds of picking four digits in exact order on one play are 10,000 to one. In the Texas Pick 3 game, if you correctly picked the three digits in the right order, and had placed 50 cents on "exact order," you'd win $250. If you had placed a $1 bet, you'd win $500.

Multi-state Games
Originally, states with relatively small populations joined together to create games that have bigger jackpots. Games now include states with a wide range of populations. One such game is Mega Millions, formerly called The Big Game, which is now played in California, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Texas, Virginia, and Washington.

Mega Millions has two separate drawings -- one of which is a "bonus" type ball, or the Megaball. Along with the "Mega" jackpots are, of course, mega odds. In 2000, while still called The Big Game, it made headlines when it offered the largest jackpot in North American history -- $363 million.

Another game with really big stakes is Powerball, offered by the Multi-State Lottery Association (MUSL). It's played in 29 states, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. To win, the player must correctly pick five numbers drawn from a field of 55 (5/55) and also correctly pick the Powerball number, which is one number drawn from a field of 42 (1/42). Two separate ball-drawing machines are used.

Powerball has formidable odds against winning. But the payoff is comparable to Mega Millions and has made it one of the most popular lotteries in America. As in Lotto, you can still win a smaller amount if you correctly pick some of the numbers. These drawings are held every Wednesday and Saturday night.

Instant Games
The Instant Games, also called "scratch-off" games, don't involve picking numbers and may be purchased at any time. The popularity of "scratch-offs" is due to several reasons. First, the games are colorful and fun to play. Second, a player doesn't need to pick numbers or fill out a play slip. And finally, there's no waiting -- just scratch off the spots.

Many states introduce new Instant Games every few weeks. (Michigan offers nearly one new game a week.) Some are more popular than others and are kept going for a longer period of time. Other games are soon discontinued, only to reappear months or years later. Still others are seasonally or holiday oriented, such as the various versions of Stocking Stuffer, Holiday Cash, Heat Wave, and Mother's Day. Different versions of the same game often crop up in several states, such as Arizona's Hold'Em Poker, Minnesota's Minnesota Hold'Em, and Texas's Hold'Em. Then there are the perennials, such as Monopoly, Bingo, and Win for Life.

With a few exceptions, the top prizes on instant tickets are much lower than Lotto jackpots. In addition to the top prizes in each game, the player has a chance to win smaller dollar amounts ranging from $1 to $50.

Here's how one of them is played: In Michigan's Ducks in a Row, players scratch off the spots, and if they find three duck symbols down, across, or diagonally, they'll win the amount shown in the prize box.

A scratch-off system? Technically speaking, there are no systems for beating these instant games. There are no numbers to pick, and the prizes are predetermined before you even buy your ticket. But "scratch" the surface of a lottery player and you'll find a system.

Some people keep tabs on the prizes already awarded in each game, and they buy only those games that have sev-eral of the larger prizes remaining. Most state lotteries have lists available that include the prize amounts of each game, how many of each there are, and how many remain.

Quick Picks
For the person who doesn't wish to take time to select his own numbers, Quick Picks (computer-generated random numbers) are an easy option. Instead of filling out a play slip, you simply tell the clerk you want a Quick Pick. The machine will then issue you a ticket with randomly generated numbers. Considering the convenience of Quick Picks, why do players bother to pick their own numbers? Many players believe their "system" -- whatever it may be -- gives them an edge. And who knows? Maybe they're right. Besides, picking your own numbers is part of the fun of lottery games. Read the next page to find out more about number-picking strategies.

Lottery Strategies

The strategies you'll read about in this section are based on mathematics or logic. They are commonly referred to as reality-based systems. By learning such techniques as tracking, wheeling and pooling, you may be able to improve your odds.

Proponents of these methods are well aware of the odds they are dealing with. They know, for instance, that in Florida's Lotto (6/53) there are 22,957,480 possible combinations for the 53 numbers. That's just another way of saying if you buy one play, the odds are 22,957,480 to one of winning. But the odds are much better in the Little Lottos or the Dailies. Consequently, these "realists" often avoid the games with larger payoffs -- and with similarly larger odds.

When they do play the big games, these players -- realizing what they're up against -- do everything they possibly can to better their chances. And just what might that be? Most people who specialize in lottery-number selection methods and strategies and repeat winners agree that the following three methods -- tracking, wheeling and pooling -- are musts for serious players.

Tracking
This popular system is often referred to as frequency analysis. In short, it involves keeping track of the individual numbers that are drawn over a period of time. You might compare it to handicapping a racehorse; rating his past performance to determine what his chances of winning are in the future.

Numbers that appear often in a certain game are called hot numbers. Some players will play these hot numbers exclusively on the assumption that since they have appeared often in the past, they should appear again in the future. But it's not as simple as that. Other players believe such numbers may be on their way out. Thus, they track the cold numbers -- the overdue ones that haven't hit yet. Most specialists, however, play a combination of these hot and cold numbers. Some people even play a combination of hot, cold, and personal numbers, such as birth dates. And in spite of the appearance of trends in a game, most lottery organizers go to great lengths to make sure the numbers drawn are truly random -- so patterns are likely coincidences.

Experts have a wide variety of opinions on tracking methods, so there's no exact formula for tracking. Once you understand the idea of frequency analysis, you can develop your own tracking formula. The winner of the very first Lotto Texas jackpot--over $21 million -- was a tracker. Janie Kallus of Schulenburg, Texas, was forced to use a rather unique method. Since there had been very few Texas numbers to track in the short history of the Texas Lotto, she tracked numbers from other states' drawings. It's easy to find lists of previous winning numbers. Most states' Web sites list them. Also, on the Web you'll find specialty publications that list them, often including charts, diagrams, and forecasting graphs.

Wheeling
This frustrating experience may have happened to you: You buy several tickets and discover that you picked all six winning numbers; unfortunately, they weren't all on the same play. Experts claim that wheeling can help lock in all your favorite numbers and dramatically increase your odds of winning.

Wheeling isn't a system of selecting numbers, but a strategy for using all the numbers you have (however you obtained them). Wheeling consists of making up a master list of your best picks, then, using a coded system, playing them in different combinations in a sort of round-robin. Some wheels even carry specific win guarantees. That is, if the numbers on your master list include all the winning numbers--or some of them, such as four out of six -- you are guaranteed to win a certain prize. None of them, of course, can guarantee you a jackpot.

As you might suspect, wheeling can involve some expense. Before beginning to wheel, first set up a budget and stick to it. Then determine how many numbers will go on your master list. You can buy your wheels from specialists. They sell wheel blanks with various designs -- grids, graphs, circles, triangles -- and with different types of coding, such as alphabetical. These wheel blanks provide various coded combinations for a number of plays; you simply fill in the blanks with your chosen numbers. Full wheels cover all possible combinations of your master-list numbers, while short wheels cover only some combinations.

You can also make the wheels yourself. If you favor certain numbers on your master list over some of the others, arrange your wheel so that those numbers are played more times. If you feel equally good about all your numbers, choose a wheel that uses each number the same amount of times. Here are two sample wheel blank systems, starting with a 10-number wheel:

 Master List: A B C D E F G H I J

Play #1
A
B
C
D
E
F
Play #2
A
B
F
G
H
I
Play #3
A
C
E
H
I
J
Play #4
B
C
E
F
G
H
Play #5
B
D
F
H
I
J
Play #6
C
D
F
G
I
J
Play #7
A D
E
G
H
J

Here is an eight-number wheel:

 Master List: A B C D E F G H

Play #1
A
B
C
E
G
H
Play #2
A
B
D
F
G
H
Play #3
B
C
D
E
F
G
Play #4
A
C
D
E
F
H

For the ten-number wheel, let's say you're playing a 6/49 Lotto, and you've chosen ten numbers you like: 2, 3, 8, 16, 18, 27, 31, 38, 40, and 44. Each of the seven lines represents one play. Now, beneath each letter, place the number from the master list that corresponds to it. Here's what the ten-number wheel will look like when you've finished:

Master List:
A
B
C
D
E
F
G
H
I
J
  2 3
8
16
18
27
31
38
40
44

 Play #1
A
B
C
D
E
F
  2
3
8
16
18
27
Play #2
A
B
F
G
H
I
  2
3
27
31
38
40
Play #3
A
C
E
H
I
J
  2
8
18
38
40
44
Play #4
B
C
E
F
G
H
  3
8
18
27
31
38
Play #5
B
D
F
H
I
J
  3
16
27
38
40
44
Play #6
C
D
F
G
I
J
  8
16
27
31
40
44
Play #7
A
D
E
G
H
J
  2
16
18
31
38
44

Let's assume the winning numbers will be 3, 16, 18, 27, 40, and 44. As you can see, had you used this wheel and invested $7 ($1 for each play), you'd have won the following prizes:

Play #1: 4/6
Play #2: 3/6
Play #3: 3/6
Play #4: 3/6
Play #5: 5/6
Play #6: 4/6
  Play #7: 3/6
 

For the eight-number wheel, let's say you're playing a 6/49 Lotto, and you've chosen eight numbers you like: 1, 6, 11, 14, 20, 21, 30, and 43. Place your lucky numbers below the letters on the master list. Each of the four lines represents one play. Now beneath each letter, place the number from the master list that corresponds to it. Here's what the eight-number wheel will look like when you're finished:

 Master List:
A
B
C
D
E
F
G
H
  1
6
11
14
20
21
30
43

Play #1
A
B
C
E
G
H
  1
6
11
20
30
43
Play #2
A
B
D
F
G
H
  1
6
14
21
30
43
Play #3
B
C
D
E
F
G
  6
11
14
20
21
30
Play #4
A
C
D
E
F
H
  1
11
14
20
21
43

This time, let's assume the winning numbers will be 1, 6, 14, 20, 30, and 43. As you can see, had you used this wheel and invested $4 ($1 for each play), you'd have won the following prizes:

Play #1: 5/6
Play #3: 4/6
Play #2: 5/6
Play #4: 4/6

Special wheels are also available for the other lottery games, including the Pick 3 and Pick 4. Keep in mind that the dramatic results shown on these two wheels are only possible if the numbers on your master list include all the winning numbers.

Pooling
Pooling your money -- or joining a lottery club -- is a strategy for stretching your resources or getting "more bang for your buck." When you join a lottery club, you pool your money together with a number of other players, increasing the amount of tickets you can buy as well as your chances of winning. Of course, there are drawbacks. The primary drawback is that you must split any winnings with the other members. Here are some things you should know before joining a pool:
  • Join only with people you trust, such as family and friends.

  • If you do join a commercially run pool, make sure it is operated by trustworthy and reputable professionals.

  • A private pool should have 15 members or less.

  • A larger, commercially operated pool should have no more than 100 members.

  • Ask for the club rules -- in writing--before joining.

  • Certain aspects should be clear from the beginning, such as who will keep the tickets in their possession, the exact procedure that will be followed in case of a win, and how the numbers will be obtained.
Special Software
You'll find numerous advertisements for computer software programs inside gambling-oriented publications. These can be expensive, so you'd be well advised to check out the reputation of the person or company advertising the product. They offer databases, astrology-based systems, and methods for selecting the best numbers for wheeling. Random number generators are also available; this is like having your own, personal Quick Pick machine.

More Methods
Avid lottery fans also use a host of other number-based methods. Here are a few:
  • Odd/Even Analysis, which is where you determine the frequency of odd or even numbers.

  • Pairs/Doubles Analysis, which is determining the frequency of certain numbers appearing together.

  • Pick 3 and Pick 4 positions, such as in which position--first, second, or third--the digit 5 most frequently hits.

  • Sector Analysis, which is tracking how frequently numbers in the low sector hit, how many in the midrange sector hit, and how many in the higher range hit. For instance, if you're playing a 6/49 Lotto and believe the numbers will be midrange, you might choose 18, 20, 21, 23, 26, and 32.
Other, more exotic methods include using bell curves and computer algorithms to recognize number patterns. There's even a theory called the "Paint Factor." This assumes that the more paint covering the surface of the ball, the more slippery it is, making it more likely to slide out of the machine. An 8, for instance, will have more paint than a 1 or a 3, and double-digit numbers will have even more. It seems that not a single mathematical, statistical, or physical aspect is overlooked when it comes to people's attempts to win Lotto.

Now that you know the Lottery games and several strategies, we'll finish this article on the next page by offering some basic lottery tips. We'll even tell you what to do if -- brace yourself -- you win.

Insider Lottery Tips

You've read about the different lottery games and how to play them. You've also found several methods of picking lucky numbers. Now it's time to fine-tune your game using this section full of insider tips and techniques. Know what to do and what to avoid. Learn how to set up a lottery-playing budget. Discover different ways to get in touch with your state's lottery. Finally (may the odds be with you), know what to do if you win!

Prudent Precautions
If possible, always buy your own lottery tickets. Don't ask neighbors or friends to pick them up for you. Similarly, don't pick up tickets for others. Don't loan or borrow money for tickets, and don't go halfsies, either. Why? Isn't this a trifling matter -- the same as picking up a loaf of bread for someone at the store? Not quite. If the ticket doesn't win or if the prize is small, then there's usually no problem. But if the ticket turns out to be a jackpot winner, you could have a sticky situation on your hands. At the very least, it could be embarrassing. This little favor for a neighbor now involves millions of dollars.

For instance, maybe your neighbor said she'd pay you the dollar for the ticket later. Fine, you think. What's a dollar? You give her the ticket, and she's now a millionaire. Be honest. Would you perhaps feel you're entitled to part of the windfall? After all, you did buy the ticket with your own money. OK, it wasn't technically your money. It was money you loaned your neighbor. Still, you did go and purchase the ticket, so you might feel you're entitled to some of the winnings.

What if the situation were reversed, and your neighbor had purchased the ticket for you? Maybe you jokingly promised to split the money with her if you won. Are you aware that she might be able take you to court, claiming the two of you made a verbal agreement? No matter what people's good intentions are before the ticket is purchased, not everyone is as honorable as winner Raul Zavaleta. Once the winning numbers are announced, not everyone will, without hesitation, keep his or her promise to split $40 million.

Are you beginning to see the possible repercussions in this? Why not avoid broken friendships, hurt feelings, and even lawsuits? Buy your own tickets, period. It's an entirely different situation when you give a ticket to someone as a gift, or vice versa -- a gift is a gift.

Most people discard their losing scratch-off, Pick 3, and Lotto tickets. After all, what possible use could you have for those scraps of paper? Think again. If you regularly spend a significant amount of money on the lottery, those old tickets might be worth cash to you.

The IRS says you cannot offset losses against winnings and report the difference. For example, if Mary spends $1,600 a year on tickets and wins only $600, she must report the $600 even though her losses amounted to $1,000. According to the tax rules, if you have gambling losses, you can claim them as an itemized deduction, but you cannot deduct more than the winnings reported. So if Mary itemizes her deductions, she can take only $600 as an itemized loss on schedule A.

On the other hand, if Jim spends $600 and wins $1,600, he too must report the $1,600. But if he itemizes, he can claim the entire $600 as a loss on schedule A since he is allowed to report any losses up to $1,600. Ironically, this law helps winners more than it helps losers. So think positively. Think like a winner, and save those old tickets.

In case you live in one of the states that doesn't have a lottery, you may be tempted to enter lotteries in other states. That's fine, provided you go to the area and purchase the ticket in person. There are several federal and state laws concerning the lotteries. One is the U.S. Postal Service regulation that forbids the mailing of unplayed lottery tickets across state lines.

Some states' laws prohibit the sale of tickets by phone, mail, fax, and over the Internet. If your state has a lottery, it makes little sense to enter either out-of-state or foreign lotteries. Chances are you'll find better odds right in your own backyard, without the extra fee or the risk. Can you imagine winning several million dollars only to discover that you haven't actually won it after all? It seems that any time big money is involved, there are those who try to get a piece of the action -- illegally.

You'll frequently see ads online and in magazines and newspapers for books, software, and other media to help you in your goal to win the Lotto. Some of these are reputable businesses and can offer you professionally designed wheeling systems and other strategies that may help better your chances. But if one of these companies claims their product is guaranteed to make you the next Lotto millionaire, ask yourself one very obvious question: If they've managed to solve the riddle of how to win a jackpot, why are they running an ad?

Playing Smart
If you've been playing for any length of time, by now you've surely heard the advice: "Don't play popular numbers." Why? Certain groups or combinations of numbers are played by hundreds or even thousands of people on any one Lotto night. So why would you care about that? Because if you played 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 and those numbers were drawn, there may be thousands of people to split the prize with. In a $5 million jackpot, you could end up with less than a Pick 3 payoff. What are the popular combinations? There are the sequences such as the one just given as well as sequences of multiples of a certain number. One popular sequence, which consists of multiples of the number 5, is 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, and 30. And because the number is considered lucky, people often play the multiples of 7: 14, 21, 28, 35, 42, and 49.

Another less common practice is to use all numbers of the same value. Sometimes people will play all numbers with the value of the number 3: 3, 12, 21, 30, 39, and 48. Suppose your primary number  is 3, because your birthday is March 21. As you previously learned, 21 -- or any number with the value of 3 -- is lucky for you. However, don't use them all on the same play slip. Spread them out over several different plays. Other selections aren't so apparent. What, you might ask, is so common about this combination: 8, 11, 18, 21, 28, and 31? If you fill in these squares on some states' Little Lotto or Lotto play slips, you'll see that these make a zigzag pattern depending on the layout of your play slip.

Many people select numbers that, when marked in the squares, create a design on the play slip. Common patterns are horizontal, vertical, and diagonal lines; letters of the alphabet such as X or M; the four corners and center of the play slip; zigzags; and crosses. Even if you do win, playing popular ticket patterns will reduce your share of the jackpot -- sometimes significantly.

A few years ago, the typical five-out-of-five pot for a Florida Fantasy 5 drawing was approximately $20,000. But one night, the payoff for winners who picked five out of five correctly was just a little over $1,500. Why? The winning numbers -- 3, 11, 13, 15, and 23 -- formed a perfect cross. People tend to think alike when it comes to playing numbers, so try to avoid the most logical patterns of play. As for the most popular single numbers (those not part of a popular series), they are 1 through 31 -- the birthday numbers. This is not to say you should avoid playing your birth date.

Just don't make a habit of playing all low numbers on one ticket. Keep in mind that the digits 1 through 9 are even more popular. Keep those to a minimum. It seems there are few hard and fast rules in Lotto, though. There have been multimillion-dollar jackpots in which the winning numbers were all low ones (but since they weren't popular combinations of low numbers, the winners didn't have to split the jackpot with many other winners). Although the results aren't as dramatically disappointing as with popular numbers, another way you may lose out -- even if you win -- is when the jackpot is large. When there is no winner for a while, the prize money rolls over and, in a sort of snowball effect, grows ever larger. The more people buy tickets, the bigger the jackpot grows. And the bigger it grows, the more people buy tickets. Lured by pots of $30 million, $50 million, and higher, players come out of the woodwork. Even those who don't usually play the lottery will play the lottery!

So if you correctly pick five out of six, there may be many more five-out-of-six winners than usual, which may mean less money for you. If the name of the game is to win, and the way to win is to lessen the odds, why join the crowd? Go ahead and buy a ticket for the big-money drawing. But smart players quietly prefer the "small" jackpots, those of only $2 million, $4.5 million, or $6 million. This is called maximizing the value of your prize. If you think about it, those "small" jackpots would be pretty nice prizes to win, too.

Make a Budget
There seems to be nearly as many budgets for lottery play as there are playing strategies. Some believe "when you're hot, you're hot," and when you're on a winning streak, you should continue to bet. You'll be inclined to agree with that, with its theory that some time periods in our lives are more lucky than others. But too many people go about it the wrong way. For example, you may buy $8 worth of scratch-off tickets one morning and win $20 and $5. Not bad, you think. So you then put $5 on the Pick 3 game, purchasing $5 worth. You end up winning $40. Then you decide to place the $25 you got from the instant tickets on the Powerball.

You don't win anything on the Powerball. So, how did you do? You originally spent $8 on the scratch-off tickets. So before you entered the Pick 3, you were $17 ahead. You spent $5 on the Pick 3, so before you entered Powerball, you were $52 ahead. So far, so good. After playing Powerball, you are exactly $27 ahead. After all that excitement, it seems like a letdown, right? Of course, you can always say, "Well, I did come out ahead." Here's what you should have done. You were right in assuming you were on a roll, and you were right to take advantage of it. But instead of placing $25 on Powerball, you should have put only $5 on the game. Then you would still be $47 on the plus side. The mistake you made was a common one: placing the "$25 you won on the scratch-off tickets" on Powerball. The truth is, you didn't win $25 on the instant tickets. Since you had to spend $8 to buy them, you won only $17.

Sometimes we have a knack for conveniently forgetting our original investments. Next time, reinvest only the amount you began with or less. In this case, that would have been $8 or less. The best thing to do is to draw up a plan in which you spend a certain amount per month. Be consistent. Never, for any reason, go over this amount. When you're on a roll, reinvest only the amount you started with. Set aside your regular amount for next month's playing, and put the rest of your profits in the bank, in a drawer, or in a shoe. This idea is used by players in the stock markets and other money markets and is a simple one: Let your profits ride, and cut your losses. Remember that rule whenever you play the lottery, and you'll enjoy the games much more.

Getting in Touch With the Lotteries
 There are several ways of finding out about the lottery. Sometimes, however, you'll need to contact the lottery itself, either directly or indirectly, for answers to your questions. The different states vary as to which medium gives what information. Here's what you can expect to find -- and where:
  • Newsletters. Again, each state differs as to information given. But generally, the publications (you'll find them free at lottery retailers) contain at least some of the following: new games (on-line and instant), prizes remaining on instant games, special promotions, brief winner stories, winning numbers for the past weeks or months, and hot/cold numbers. At the very least, you'll find leaflets explaining how to play the games and information on new games.

  • Phone lines. While some of these may still be referred to as "hotlines," most phone numbers to your state lottery are "customer service lines." Rarely do they give the drawing results, but instead they provide information on claiming a prize, such as the location of the nearest claim center or, in the case of a jackpot, information about the lottery headquarters. You'll find these numbers on the back of your ticket.

  • Web sites. These are now the preferred method to learn about your state's lottery. They generally offer a gold mine of information. Variously, you may discover the legal age to play, games (existing and upcoming), instant games (usually with graphics), odds, playing instructions, times and dates of drawings, and drawing results (some extending several months into the past). You may also read about new winners and learn how to collect your prize money. Some sites offer a Frequently Asked Questions section. If your state offers Mega Millions or Powerball, you'll find either a link or information on it. It's easy to find the Web site. Just look on your ticket.

  • E-mail. Have questions? E-mail them to your state lottery. You'll find the address on the Web site.
If You Win
Before you can win, you must first find out if you hold a winning ticket. Always double-check the date and the numbers on your lottery tickets with the winning numbers for that day's drawing. And if you missed the drawing on television, it's also a good idea to check more than one source. The Michigan Lotto hotline once gave the wrong winning numbers for the Daily 4. The mistake was corrected in a few minutes, but can you imagine the dismay of anyone who destroyed his ticket and later found out he'd won?

And it wouldn't hurt to give that scratch-off ticket another glance before you throw it away just to make sure you haven't beaten the dealer, opened the cash vault, spun 'n' won, bingoed, won for life, or otherwise come into some cash. Incredible as it may seem, literally millions of dollars go unclaimed each year. For whatever reasons, people may get rid of a ticket, lose it, or throw it away by mistake. But their loss can become someone else's gain. Here is some important information for lucky winners:
  • First and foremost: Whether you've won a little or a lot -- even before you're sure you have won -- sign the ticket. Unsigned, the ticket is a bearer instrument. This means it belongs to the bearer just like cash.

  • Don't let time run out. Many states' deadlines for on-line games are 180 days from the date of the drawing. But time limits vary from state to state and from game to game, so check the previously mentioned sources, the back of the play slip, or the back of the instant ticket to make sure.

  • Some states have different rules, but generally you can take your winning ticket that's less than $600 to the lottery retailer, who will pay you the money. Other states (just to complicate matters) set the limit at up to, and including, $600.

  • Again, generally speaking, winning tickets that are $600 or over (but usually not jackpot tickets) may be cashed by taking the ticket to a state claim center. There you'll fill out a claim form and collect your prize. You can find claim center phone numbers or addresses at the retailers, on your state's Web site, or by calling the customer service number, which is usually on the back of your ticket.

  • While some lotteries say you may take care of this by mail, it is not advisable. In the same way, it would be foolish to put a thousand dollars in cash into an envelope and mail it.

  • In the case of jackpots, some states pay in one lump sum, now called cash value option. Others pay by annuity (installments over a period of years). Still others give you a choice. Sometimes this choice must be made when you buy the ticket.

  • The IRS requires lotteries to withhold 25 percent federal tax from prizes more than $5,000. There also may be a smaller state tax withheld.

  • Important: See a tax attorney before collecting the prize. If a jackpot winner dies, heirs will get the money just as any other holding, such as real estate. But unless the deceased has set up legal trusts, inheritance taxes could wipe out nearly the entire fortune.

  • If you win "the big one," as stated earlier, sign the ticket. Keep it in a safe place. Verify that you are indeed the winner. See an attorney. Then contact your state lottery headquarters, who will arrange for a day for you to come in, have your ticket validated, and collect your prize money.

  • Keep a low profile. Aside from the lawyer and close family members, tell no one. Until you've had your ticket validated, you're in a somewhat precarious situation. For your own safety -- not to mention that of the ticket -- the fewer who know, the better.
A couple more pieces of advice: Wear a pair of sunglasses to keep the limelight out of your eyes. Wear a smile for the cameras. You're a winner. Congratulations!

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