The National Lottery is 15 weeks old today. The total staked each week has settled down at more than £27m a week for the past five weeks, comfortably ahead of the £21m-£22m which the razzmatazz of the launch brought in. There have been 15 million winners to date, sharing £365m worth of prizes.
But the big money is in the jackpot prize pool, where 171 winners have shared £132m so far. This is the big time, and inevitably with up to £20m at stake for a single winner, and 22 real live millionaires already created, the search for winning systems is well under way.
The beauty of the random ball selection system the lottery employs is that, like roulette, the winning numbers every week are the product of pure chance. If the lottery runs for long enough every number from 1 to 49 has an equal chance of winning and every number should win an equal number of times. But that has not stopped the search for winning combinations and the study seems certain to grow and multiply.
In the 14 weeks to date, two numbers, 16 and 38, have each come up trumps five times, six more - 5, 21, 29, 30, 31 and 44 - have come up four times, if bonus balls are included, but five numbers - 8, 24, 33, 34 and 41 - have yet to score, and both 10 and 28 have only registered as a bonus ball.
A distribution analysis shows there have been clusters of winning numbers from 3-6, 14-17, 29-32, but there is no visible pattern in the distribution of winning numbers to date. The first 10 numbers have come up 20 times, the next 10 19 times, the third 21, the fourth 20 and the last nine numbers 18 times. There is little to go on in the distribution of odds and evens. The 25 odd numbers have produced 48 winning numbers, the 24 even numbers 50, including bonus balls.
There should be a bias in favour of big winners when there is a relatively high number of winning numbers between 32 and 49. This is a direct result of the fact that the favourite system used by many punters is to choose numbers based on the birthdays of family and friends.
Systems based on ages, or on collapsing favoured numbers over 49 by adding the digits together also tend to bias selections in the lower half of the range, and so should reward fewer individual winners with bigger prizes when most of the winning numbers fall towards the top end of the range.
Four times so far there has been only one out of six winning balls numbered above 30, excluding bonus balls which only come into play as tie-breakers. Those four draws have produced nine jackpot winners. On 31 December and 4 February, four of the six winning numbers were over 30, and on 10 December, no less than five numbers were over 30, ruling out everyone who relies only on birthdays.
Sure enough there was only one jackpot winner on each of those three occasions.
But just to prove that there is no such thing as a foolproof system, on 14 January three of the six winning numbers were above 30, and yet that was the week which produced 133 jackpot winners. Ah, well, back to the drawing board!