And the numbers are ...rosy for Britain's great national pastime

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The Independent Online
It was Christmas Eve last year when ball number 39 first came up in the National Lottery - and it has never been in the winning frame since, making it unquestionably the rarest winner since the Great National Pastime began. Numbers 6, 7, 13, and 35 have only won four times, including bonus balls, in the 47 draws to date.

By contrast 22 has won 12 times, 5 has won 11 times, and 28 has won 10 times, followed by 16, 21, 25, 31, 38, 41 and 44, all of which have appeared nine times. If there is any justice, which there probably isn't, most of these should be due for a rest this week.

If, like me, you despair of winning by banking on the number of appearances for each number balancing out over the long run, perhaps you would prefer to look at numbers that have been out of the limelight for a while. Apart from 39, number 6 has not won since week 22, number 36 won last week but had missed out since week 23, while 9 and 13 have not made it since week 28. Yet number 10, which used to be a rare bird, has now come up four times in the last seven weeks.

Although many punters still use birthdays as a basis for choosing their numbers, in spite of scoffing by gambling correspondents, there is reason to believe the vast majority of punters doctor their birthday-based selections in order to generate higher numbers and spread their six selections across the whole range from 1 to 49.

But winning numbers do bunch quite frequently and when they do they tend to produce big winners. So on 17 December , when the first five numbers were under 20, there were only two winners and when it happened again, on 8 July, there was only one, who pocketed the roll-over prize of pounds 20m. On 7 January the highest winning number was 32 and there was no big winner at all, and on 25 February the highest number was 33 and a single winner scooped pounds 7m.

On 10 December all six winning numbers were in the top half of the range, the lowest winning number was 26, and the bonus ball was 28. There was just one winner. But on 17 June, when the lowest number was 27 and the bonus was 2, there were seven prize-winners. On 29 July the lowest winning number was 28 and the bonus ball was 11 and there were three winners. If there is pattern, it suggests families may be choosing numbers based on ages rather than birthdays.

So far the lottery has created 109 instant millionaires, and the sheer size of the payouts has attracted criticism, not least at the Labour Party conference last week. Most punters, if asked individually, say they would not mind if the maximum payout was capped at pounds 1m, in line with premium bonds and the typical pools jackpot, but the evidence suggests the prospect of a mega-million payout does increase ticket sales.

Gross sales have steadied out at around pounds 65m a week in normal weeks, and the prize pool is running at just under pounds 30m, but the pool swells to more than pounds 40m in roll-over weeks, when the jackpot from the previous week has not been won and is added to the prize money for the following week. Sales rise to almost pounds 75m in roll-over weeks. The last time the jackpot went unclaimed was 9 September, although the combination of winning numbers then was not particularly surprising.

A winner last week means an ordinary week is on the cards today, and sales of lottery tickets will have to wait another week to top pounds 3bn. Virginia Bottomley may well be right: Britain has the most successful lottery, for its size, world-wide.

Whether that is something to boast about depends on your point of view. Massive interest in the lottery used to be the prerogative of poor countries like Ireland, Spain and Brazil, where wealth was only accessible to most people in dreams. Now millions of Britons support the lottery because they see it as the only way to attain the prosperity and security they long for. I wonder if Tony Blair can change that.

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