How to win big on the lottery

The National Lottery is 15 years old this month. Cliff D'Arcy explains how to beat the odds and win bigger payouts.

The first draw National Lottery took place on 19 November 1994, so the Lotto turned 15 this month. Do you remember the media frenzy at the launch and the excitement when the first six numbers were drawn? Since then, Camelot has gone on to create 2,300 millionaires, or roughly three per week.

Why governments love lotteries

Although we've had a National Lottery in the UK for a decade and a half, the origins of lotteries go back centuries, even millennia. The first lottery slips have been traced back to China more than 2,200 years ago.

Modern national lotteries often came about as a way of raising money for European governments to fund their wars. The first state-sponsored lottery in England was drawn in 1569, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.

No matter what the country, lotteries attract criticism. As a form of gambling, they come in for a lot of flak, especially from religious groups. Nevertheless, governments count on legalised, taxed lotteries, as they bring guaranteed profits into a nation's coffers. For example, Camelot collects about £5 billion a year, of which £600 million (12%) goes to HM Treasury.

You cannot beat the odds...

As a (lapsed) mathematician, I regard lotteries as a tax on people who are bad at maths. This is because they produce handsome returns to the organisers, but awful returns to the players as a whole.

Take the UK's most popular lottery, the Lotto, which takes place twice a week (on Wednesdays and Saturdays). From a total of 49 balls, six balls plus a further 'bonus' ball are drawn. Here are the odds for these draws:

Balls matched




Any win

1 in 54



1 in 57



1 in 1,033



1 in 55,492



1 in 2,330,636



1 in 13,983,816


As you can see, the odds of winning any prize are 1 in 54, or just short of 2%. Thus, 53 out of 54 Lotto tickets are thrown away. By far the most likely outcome is that your £1 wins you nothing from one week to the next.

What's more, only half of the stake money is paid out in prizes. Thus, with average luck, you should expect to lose at least half (50%) of all the money you bet on the Lotto during your lifetime. If you don't get lucky and win big at least once (matching five or more balls), then expect to lose more than four-fifths (80%) of your stake money.

Note these odds are firmly fixed -- and there is no way of beating them, as the numbers are drawn randomly. Hence, it is absolutely impossible to use any technique to increase your odds of winning (other than the mug's game of buying even more tickets).

Then again, there are ways to boost your returns by exploiting other players' weaknesses.

...But you can beat other players

Seven in ten adults play the Lotto, so most people happily ignore my advice not to be fooled into playing. Nevertheless, if you do like the odd flutter, what can you do to improve your returns? Here are three things to try:

1. Pick some numbers over 31

Every combination of six numbers has an equal chance of winning a prize, so there is no point in favouring one sequence of six numbers over another. However, gamblers are a superstitious lot and, both in the UK and overseas, they often pick their weekly numbers using family birthdays.

The flaw with this approach is that the range of birthdays runs from 1 to 31 (the days of the month). Hence, using only birthdays to pick numbers makes it impossible to win the big one if one or more numbers from 32 to 49 are drawn.

Thus, to increase your chances of scooping a big jackpot on your own, be sure to pick a few numbers above 31. While this won't increase your chances of winning, it will help to improve the odds that you don't share this huge windfall with too many other punters.

2. Play next month's Superdraw(s)

Occasionally, Camelot announces special Superdraws which promise bumper jackpots. Given that we're coming to the end of the first decade of the 21st Century, I suspect that one or more guaranteed Superdraws is on the cards in December.

The prize pots for these special draws are boosted by Camelot's accumulated reserves, so they provide a bit more bang for your buck. So, look out for a Christmas or New Year's Eve Superdraw...

3. Go for a Rollover

If no-one wins the jackpot in a Lotto draw, then this prize fund rolls over until some lucky punter scoops the accumulated pot. Given that the jackpot accounts for more than half (52%) of the total prize fund, two or more rollovers can build a jackpot of £10+ million.

Camelot heavily advertises rollover draws, which leads to a flurry of ticket buying and, hence, an even bigger jackpot. Therefore, if you must have a flutter, then buy tickets only for double, triple or higher rollovers. If by some miracle, you win the jackpot, then it will be like scooping two or more draws in one go.

The best odds: don't play

Once again, it's impossible to overcome the basic, humble arithmetic of the Lotto. I find it helps to think of a £1 ticket as nothing more than a 50p stake in the prize fund. Thanks to this, players lose £2½ billion a year by playing the lottery.

Thus, instead of dreaming about winning a million, try working, saving and investing towards this goal. After all, the odds are that you're more likely to die while reading this article than you are to win the next Lotto jackpot!

More: Start saving or investing today | Earn six times as much interest | Get your foreign currency here


Be the first to comment

Do you want to comment on this article? You need to be signed in for this feature

Copyright © All rights reserved.