Lotto: Be In It to Win It

Lotto or lottery playing is one of the most widespread forms of gaming in the world. It’s the little flutter that even non-punters indulge in. Even where most betting is illegal, lotteries are tolerated and regulated. they are even run by state authorities who love the revenues they can bring in.

For players, they offer the promise of life-changing prizes for a small stake. While the odds of that happening are very long, most lottos are set up for a potential stream of smaller wins for regular players.

All gaming relies on some form of entertainment to give an extra pull beyond the thrill of the game itself. Lotto is no different. In the UK, the National Lottery has added showbiz razzamatazz to its TV draw shows. There are game shows and big-name entertainers who add some flavour to the random selection of a set of numbers.

Lotto and lotteries also offer something few other games of chance can – the opportunity to do some good.

In the UK, the “good causes” that benefit from the national lottery game are well publicised. There can’t be a place in the country that hasn’t seen a community project put up a “with help from the National Lottery” plaque. They’ve shared a massive £34 billion since the game’s launch in 1994.

A local club or charity can organise a lotto game in a couple of hours. No charity social evening would be complete without sellers pushing their books of tickets onto guests. Even the big national games have a social side – players form syndicates and have all sorts of fun deciding how to pick their numbers.

Lotto straddles the globe and is inside the world’s consciousness. Lots of Luck, Waking Ned, It Could Happen to You, are hit movies that all feature lotto wins. In the classic The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, a down-on-his-luck Humphrey Bogart needs a prize from a Mexican lotto to fund his trip to dig for precious metal. If you hear gansters in movies talking about “the numbers racket” or “the numbers game” they’re talking about a form of lotto that was run underground when this was illegal in the United States.

There is also a thriving industry built on lottery draws. After all, it’s a simple random event, so why not? Casinos – on, and offline – run their own mini-lotteries in a game called keno (sometimes kino).

Everyone loves lottos, one of the simplest forms of gaming yet the one that’s had the most impact on the modern world.

Who Plays Lotto?

If you’re over the legal age, 16 in the UK for the National Lottery (18 in most other countries), and can get to a shop or a computer, you can play lotto. Tickets are usually cheap, £2 in the UK, to make the game accessible to everyone.

There are lotteries all over the globe. Wikipedia lists 73 national lottery games (America has many state lotteries, but no truly national games). There even multinational games like the nine-country Euromillions; the 14-nation Eurojackpot game; and the Viking Lotto that links up eight Scandinavian and Baltic countries.

Tickets are sold anonymously to anyone who can buy them, so it’s hard to get a good idea of who players are.

The UK Gambling Commission found in 2010 that 59% of adults had bought tickets for the National Lottery Draw that year. The same survey found that after the National Lottery, other lotteries were the most popular form of gaming. A US study found that players were most likely to be in their 20s or 30s with a slight decline in the proportion of people playing in older age groups.

The biggest wins around the world have been dominated by American wins like these record-breakers:

  1. $656 million on Mega Millions in March 2012 by players in Maryland, Illinois and Kansas.
  2. $648 million on Mega Millions in December 2013 by players in Georgia and California.
  3. $590.5 million on Powerball in May 2013 by a Florida player, the world’s biggest single winner.
  4. $587.5 million on Powerball in November 2012, by players in Missouri and Arizona.
  5. $448.4 million on Powerball in August 2013 by two New Jersey players and one from Minnesota.

The biggest win in Europe was a £161 million Euromillions jackpot won by a Scottish player in 2011. A Chinese Welfare Lottery won Asia’s top prize, RMB¥ 570 million. Three ticket holders collected R$244 million on Brazil’s Mega-Sena for Latin America’s biggest win. And A$112 went to the four players who scooped an Australasia-record OZ lotto win.

The biggest lottery in the world by prize money is the Spanish Christmas lottery. This has topped the €2 billion mark a couple of times. The way the lotto works means prizes are always split many ways, so individuals don’t often register on biggest-win lists.

Why Play Lotto?

It can change your life! The famous “it could be you” slogan that launched the UK’s National Lottery convinced plenty of people to take on odds of close to 14 million to one of winning the jackpot. Only lotto can offer these sort of gambling wins.

While it’s very simple, it can still be fun to play lotto. The entertainment comes in draws packed with entertaining extras. You can also make a game of picking your numbers. The organisers of the Powerball Lottery in the USA suspected fraud when 110 players all won a slice of a big second prize. In fact, they’d all chosen the same set of numbers from a make of fortune cookie that had printed thousands of the same lucky numbers. Birthdays, horoscopes, football scores, dice throws… almost anything can be a fun way to pick numbers.

Lotto syndicates can be fun social groups too. Again, the fun – and the arguments – comes about from picking your lucky numbers; why should your poodle’s birthday trump my son’s winning rugby score?!

How Lotto Works

If you’re in the mood, you can organise your own lotto in just a few minutes with some paper and scissors. The simplest lotteries sell single number tickets before putting a copy of every ticket sold into a bucket to draw out a winner.

The bigger games are slightly more complex and come in a large number of variations around the world, all built around the same simple formula.

Players select a set of numbers from a range. A random draw is made to produce a winning selection of numbers from the same range. Players who match the numbers – or some of them – win prizes.

In the UK, the numbers run from 1 to 40 and six numbers are drawn. An extra bonus ball is drawn to boost some prizes.

Keno, the casino version of lotto is a live-action, faster method of playing the game. It features 80 numbers, with players picking up to 20 numbers on game cards. A machine, sometimes using compressed air to pick balls, more commonly a computer these days, comes up with a random selection of 20 numbers. The more numbers a player matches, the more cash they win.

The Invention and History of Lotto

Lotto could well be the oldest form of gaming in the world.

Keno slips dating from between 205 and 187 BC have been found in China. There’s an even older reference – 2nd millennium BC – in Chinese writing.

The Ancient Romans held lotteries at their dinner parties. Emperor Caesar Augustus used a public lotto to raise funds to repair the city’s walls.

By the Middle Ages, lotteries were well-established means of raising money for public works. Prizes were getting large too, a 1737 Dutch lottery offered a prize worth the equivalent of about $170,000.

Like bingo, the modern lotto probably has Italian roots. In Genoa the city authority members were chosen by a random draw. This was a form of government called demarchy or sortation – and it soon became a focus for gaming. When the “elections” didn’t come up often enough to keep punters happy, a lotto was started for them to chance their arms on.

Queen Elizabeth I launched the first English lottery in 1566. The system used to sell very expensive tickets with prizes for all. This spawned the stockbrokers who now trade shares. In 1698, a statute was passed making all lotteries illegal unless they were specifically authorised by the state. This law remained for centuries, only allowing small lotteries to run legally in the 20th century.

By 1612, the American colonies were being financed with lotto games. The then colonies had their own lotto operations to fund public works and even military expeditions by 1744.

The UK National Lottery was launched as a state franchise in 1993. Camelot won the right to stage it, a decision that was quite controversial at the time. Richard Branson’s Virgin Group had made a rival bid that offered to donate even more money to good causes but lost out.

The first draw was on 19th November, 1994. Seven players won a share of a jackpot of nearly £6 million.

The game was rebranded as Lotto in 2002.

Online Lotto Games

Playing lotto online is now very common.

Taking part is as simple as any e-commerce transaction requiring age verification to buy a ticket in many national lotteries.

Online play was launched by the official National Lottery in the UK at the end of 2003. Players can now play a plethora of lotto games on the web, including instant-win online scratch cards.

In the UK you can fund your tickets by direct debit or by cashing up your account in advance. Players are not allowed to play on credit. You must also have a UK bank account, and you must live in the UK or the Isle of Man (which joined the National Lottery in 1999). You must also be physically in those territories when you buy your ticket.

There is also a huge secondary industry based around betting on lotto draws without betting in them. After all, it is simply an event with an unpredictable outcome and that’s what all gaming is based on.

Playing lotto games this way is simple. You simply pick a draw – almost all national draws are easy to find – and pick your numbers. It’s just like playing in the draw itself. These secondary bets usually also come close to offering the prizes offered in the actual game – it’s a game with the same odds.

The other option is to play keno at a casino site. And if you know how to play lotto you know how to play keno.

That too is supremely simple. The hardest part may be finding the game. It doesn’t fit easily into the standard classifications – table games, slots, poker – used by most online casinos.

Once you have tracked it down, you’ll soon see that keno is a very simple lotto game with an 80 number range.

Players are asked to select their numbers. The amount of numbers they can play will vary, it may be 10, it may be 15, or a range from 1 to 20. The numbers are called “spots”.

If you’re lucky enough to find a live keno game with streaming video of the draw, you’ll probably be able to play every five minutes or so.

Most sites now offer instant keno. Basically, each player plays alone and triggers a private draw when they’re ready to play. You may be able to select your numbers and let them ride through a number of draws.

Prizes are paid according to the number of spots from the player’s selection that appear among the 20 random numbers selected by the casino.

Then it gets complicated. Well, not really, but the prizes paid out will vary from casino to casino. Make sure you check the paytables or return to player rate and that you’re happy with those before you start to play.

Here’s a possible set of returns for a £1 bet:

  • Match five numbers = £2
  • Match six numbers = £25
  • Match seven numbers = £150
  • Match eight numbers = £1,200
  • Match nine numbers = £10,000
  • Match 10 numbers = £100,000

This example does set the bar quite low in the online casino world. It’s certainly worth shopping around. Remember to only play at sites that are properly licensed in your jurisdiction. The authorities will ensure that the games are fair – and have good security.

Tips for Playing Lotto

Lotto is a game of random chance.

That means no skills you possess will make you more likely to win, and no “system” will do anything for your chances either.

However, you can do some things to make it more likely that if you do win a game of lotto or lottery you are more likely to win alone.

People tend to use numbers that mean a lot to them (and that they can remember easily). That means the numbers from the range used in dates – 1 to 31 – are commonly chosen. As are house numbers, postcodes and so on. The fewer of these you have on your card, the less likely you are to have to share your prize.

Avoid lucky numbers. Many cultures have lucky numbers, so adjust your tactics if you are playing in different jurisdictions. In Europe, 3, 6, 9, 4 (remember the four-leaf clover), and 7 have been seen as lucky. Chinese people find 8 to their taste – among many others.

Remember that most people like patterns and lots of them are picking numbers on a piece of paper with a pen. So, avoid anything that looks like a pattern on those cards. Even the natural desire to space your numbers out nice and tidily might make you more likely to share your cash-pot.

In the UK Camelot revealed that about 10,000 people play the sequence 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 in each draw. They probably think they’re being clever, but unfortunately they may end up – if they do win – with a fraction of the millions they were expecting. So, avoid sequences too.

Your best bet in lotto, lotteries and keno is to have fun in picking your numbers while bearing these tips in mind.

The same advice applies when betting on lotto games at online gaming sites or casinos. Just have fun. There’s a whole world of lotteries to pick from, but the odds – which should be easily available to you – are not appreciably different. You may as well pick a logo you like or a country you’d like to visit.

And Finally…

We’ll leave you with a strange lottery story that might drive you on in the search for patterns that aren’t there.

In 2011, a retired statistics professor from Texas, was reported to have won four lotto jackpots each worth several million dollars. Three of her prizes had come from scratchcards. The juxtaposition of massive prizes, multiple wins, and Ms Ginther’s former profession, led people to believe that she had discovered “the secret” of lotto wins. The most likely answer is probably simply quantity – she bought tens of thousands of tickets. 

Enjoy your lotto!