WITH THE jackpot prize in the National Lottery remaining unclaimed since the start of September, tonight’s jackpot – which is set to exceed €16 million, and could reach even higher – is a tantalising amount just waiting to be won.
And guess what? It’s actually possible to guarantee victory – and the way to do so is actually deceptively simple.
Allow us to explain how the phrase ‘It Could Be You’ could become ‘It Definitely Will Be You’.
Before you lose the run of yourself with fantasy thoughts of how you would spend the jackpot – already the third-highest jackpot in Lotto history – it’s probably not a bad idea to try and retain some perspective of the chances of victory.
Lottery draws around the world are based on some fundamental mathematical premises. For example, the amount of the jackpot has to be in relative proportion to the jackpot. That might not make a whole lot of sense, so perhaps it’s better rephrased: if the jackpot is quite big, there’s no point in only having a few numbers to choose from.
For example: if the Lotto jackpot was €1m, and you only had to choose one number out of five, it’d be pretty easy to win: you’d only have to buy five tickets, choosing a different number each time, and no matter what number came out in the draw, you’d have a winning ticket. (Of course, everyone else might have the same idea, which could mean your share of the jackpot would be pretty small.)
When lottery jackpots get larger, the chances of such an easy ploy becoming feasible get bigger and bigger. Let’s say the jackpot is usually €100,000, and to win it you have to choose five numbers out of 30. There are 142,506 different combinations you could choose – so if each ticket cost €1, you could buy every single combination of numbers, guarantee a victory, and not make a profit.
When the jackpot begins to roll over, however, the chances of such a scheme becoming more profitable get higher. In the previous example, buying every possible ticket doesn’t make sense if the jackpot is only €100,000. If it’s €200,000, though, then you can guarantee a share of the jackpot if you buy every single ticket.
It’s been done before
This was exploited in 1992, when a Bank Holiday draw (not unlike the current one) had produced an unusually high rollover jackpot of £1.7m. At the time, the Lotto only had 36 numbers, with six numbers on a line – meaning a total of 1,947,792 combinations. With each line only costing 50p, you could buy every single combination of numbers for £973,896.
And a syndicate did just that. A group of 28 people had spent six months filing out blank Lotto slips in preparation for a big jackpot, and bought as many tickets as it possibly could. The National Lottery tried to stop the scam – limiting the number of tickets any single machine could sell, and turning off a few machines the syndicate was using – but the group managed to buy about 85% of the tickets it needed.
The group did win the jackpot, but so did two others – meaning they only won £568,682 of the jackpot. With the amount it also won in match-5 and match-4 prizes, however, its overall takings were a reported £1.16m – giving an overall profit of about £300,000. To stop it happening again, the Lottery introduced three new balls, which raised the number of combinations.
But it could still work
These days, you’re required to get the correct combination of six numbers out of a possible 45 – meaning there are 8,145,060 combinations of numbers. Each line costs €1.50 – meaning that to buy a ticket for every single combination would cost €12,217,590. Therefore, you could guarantee a share of the jackpot – and even if you only shared it, the smaller prizes you’d win would cover any losses you might make.
There’s only two catches. Firstly, this means you’d need €12,217,590 spare. Secondly, it also means you’d need to have 1,018,133 Lotto slips filled out (with all but one slip having all eight panels filled out) in advance of the draw.
This is where you might hit a snag. Keeping track of each individual combination might be made quite simple if you’re using a computer, so let’s say it takes you five seconds to fill out one panel and type your numbers into a computer, to keep track of your tickets.
Even if you had somehow managed to raid every newsagent in the country and steal over a million Lotto slips, to successfully fill out each slip with every combination of numbers would take you 471 days and a little over eight hours. And that’s if you don’t stop to stretch your legs. Or eat. Or sleep. Ever. For 67 weeks.
Add in the price of the pens and pencils you’d need to fill out each slip, and the time you’d need to get to every newsagent and use up its maximum number of ticket sales, and all of a sudden the mathematically practical becomes the legitimately impossible.
Still, though, it’s nice to know how close you are to becoming a multi-millionaire, isn’t it?