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PONDER STORY

The Big One

For many, winning the lottery is ultimate gambler’s dream. Dan Stephens wonders if there are any meaningful tactics when it comes to choosing your numbers – plus a look into where your £1 goes

Some consider it chasing an impossible dream or an annoyance that prolongs the wait for Match Of The Day on a Saturday night – but for many, the National Lottery is no small thing. With almost £2 billion being paid out in prize money every year the potential for massive jackpots it is a lure for anyone fancying the long odds, and behind the scenes a huge cut of takings get donated to a host of worthy causes including charities, sporting benefits and the arts.

The National Lottery was first introduced to Great Britain way back in 1994 and has since undergone multiple expansions and re-brandings that have spawned numerous variants. Since 2002 the main draw has been renamed Lotto in an effort to modernise the game but it has always remained £1 a play. For the uninitiated, here is a very brief summary.

Drawn from one of twelve different machines – all with arcane mythological names inspired by the operating group Camelot, six numbers are drawn along with a further bonus ball from a range of 1-49. The prize money up for grabs is relative to the number of players and a percentage of the winnings are handed out to players that have correctly guessed three numbers or more. Correctly guessing all six numbers will net the ticket holder roughly 52 percent of the prize money, which normally consists of about £6.3 million. However, the jackpot has reached the heights of £42,008,610 in June 1996 and the record payout to one individual is a staggering £22,590,829 back in 1995. It is the ultimate game of chance – even with our track record of great gambling tips, surely there’s no real strategic advice we could bring you, right?

HOW TO GET THE BEST OUT OF THE LOTTERY

If any magazine published an article offering ‘tips on winning the lottery’ they would be laughed out of town and rightly so. With the jackpots so ridiculously large, a huge amount of time has been devoted to finding ways of beating the massive odds. In truth there is no pattern or equation that a player can harness which can tangibly reduce the improbability of winning the draw. Despite this there are several ‘tricks of the trade’ known as reality-based systems that seasoned lottery players can employ to attempt to garner an advantage in the game.

First off there is frequency analysis, which consists of tracking numbers that have come up in previous draws and utilising this knowledge. For example, determining which numbers have been drawn frequently recently and which have not. These numbers are usually referred to as hot and cold and it is up to the player whether they decide that a frequently drawn number has more or less chance cropping up again, compared to a cold one. In reality a combination of both is probably the best to go with – if you believe that this kind of system could actually be productive. Wheeling is another option for more studious gamers. It involves compiling a list of all your favourite digits and creating a system that intermittently produces combinations of said numbers – hopefully finding a winning ticket amongst these choices. But it’s important to state that there is as much chance of the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 coming up as the random combination you’ve got on your Lucky Dip ticket this week. It’s amazing how many people can’t get their heads around this information. You can pick all the family birthdays and lucky numbers you like, you’ve still got the same chance as the next man with his 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.

Although many hard-core lottery players take their systems very seriously, whether it can actually benefit you in real terms is difficult to argue for. Perhaps a more logical approach would be to accept that while there is not a way of actually reducing the odds of one combination of numbers winning the jackpot there are however some other ways that you can shorten the chance of winning more cash.

With this view in mind it is time to consider the alternatives – one of the best ways of maximising the Lotterys potential is to select combinations that you think are unlikely to be duplicates of anybody else’s. Therefore in the unlikely event of a jackpot win, the odds of you having to split two or three ways with other people are significantly reduced – and this can be easier than you think.

The trick is to omit numbers and sequences that correlate obviously with the choices of competitors – for example steer clear of consecutive numbers like 5, 6, 7 because they are utilised by many people. Also avoid multiples and past winning numbers because many people go for these options. Lastly consider how many players will use a selection of birthdays to choose their combinations – this can be countered by selecting at least one number over 31 and no more than two under 12 to avoid months of the year as well. These tips will not up the chance of a lottery win, but if it happens following some of these rules will stand you in good stead for taking down a larger proportion of the cash prize. It is also worth considering entering a syndicate which will greatly increase your chances of cashing – even if you are not getting the jackpot to yourself.

WHERE YOUR QUID GOES

Luckily for everyone except the jackpot winners the National Lottery has a strict policy on spreading the wealth, so for every pound spent on a ticket a certain amount goes to different benefactors. Of every pound that is spent on a ticket 50p goes to the prize fund, which allows the jackpot to surge into the millions. Aside from that the rest divides between a carefully weighted ratio for a selection of other causes. 12p goes to the government as duty, the organisers Camelot take 4.5p, 5p is given to the retailer with 0.5p kept in the pocket for profit.

That leaves a sizable 28p and this portion is allocated to what is set aside by the government for good causes. Cynics have suggested that this could be construed as a stealth tax for the benefit of the Big Lottery Fund, which funds certain areas of public spending. However, when you actually see the stats its hard to argue against it. Since 1994, a staggering £24 billion has been raised by Lottery players for projects across the UK; enough to quell any doubts on the social responsibility of the Lottery. The funding regularly helps some of the nation’s poorest communities, and since it began over a quarter of all grants go to the most deprived local authority areas. Furthermore £10 billion of National Lottery funding has gone to projects that benefit children and young people, which really emphasises the importance of this percentage of ticket sales.

The funding raised by ticket sales also contributes a huge amount to aiding art and culture in Britain. Art galleries, concert halls and theatres are a key example. Aided by Lottery funding 80 new arts venues have been delivered and a further 600 have been refurbished. Cash has also been poured into environmental projects and Britains rich heritage. More specifically £2.3 billion has been spent on over 2,290 heritage projects and over 3,000 projects involving urban and rural regeneration in deprived areas of the UK.

In terms of the environment almost £300 million has been lavished on biodiversity projects that help to restore and safeguard some of the UKs most threatened habitats including wetlands and scarce heath land in Southern England. Historic buildings and public parks also enjoy regular funding.

There is also an emphasis on generating funds to promote sport in the UK. In fact, since its creation the Lottery has poured £3 billion into sporting concerns and it remains particularly active in supporting athletics projects and helping young athletes achieve their potential. For example, Lottery support has contributed to Olympic and Paralympic athletes winning over 140 medals since its inception and there is potential for this to be built on. Lottery money has created 1,652 green spaces and 902 sports facilities and play areas have been created or improved. This could encourage the development of potential athletes in the future.

Employment in certain areas has been boosted by the work of the Lottery and this is illustrated by its contribution towards winning the Commonwealth Games for Manchester in 2006, where 20,000 jobs were created as a result of the event getting the green light.

So regardless of whether you’ve played every week since it started, or just enjoy the occasional flutter, even if you haven’t won you can rest assured that you have played your part in some really important projects around the UK.

NATIONAL LOTTERY FACTS

• Since launch, the National Lottery has given over £34 billion in prizes and created over 2,000 millionaires

• At time of press, there have been 185 rollovers, of which 14 are double rollovers and one triple rollover to date

• Total National Lottery ticket sales for the year to 31 March 2009 were £5.15 billion, an increase of £182.8 million on the previous year

• £11,200 worth of online tickets are sold every 100 seconds

• National Lottery funding will contribute up to £2.2 billion towards the costs of staging the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games in London

• During the first double rollover at the beginning of 1996, the Lottery’s system failed as it could not keep up. On average, seven million tickets were sold per hour during the double rollover

• 21,785,500 people watched the first National Lottery Live Show on 19 November 1994

• The most northerly National Lottery outlet is on the island of Unst in the Shetlands. It is closer to Norway than to London

• The luckiest outlet is the Star News, Newton Powys

• National Lottery Playslips are made from recycled paper

• The average spend per player is £2.50 (before midweek draw started) and £3.33 (after midweek draw started)

• 70 percent of the UK population play regularly and 94 percent of the UK adult population has played the National Lottery at some time

• 40 percent of all adults playing the Lottery are in a syndicate

• The largest unclaimed prize was £2,054,754 in Hull in May 1996

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