!! Author’s Note : UPDATED ANALYSIS AVAILABLE !!
For the most current and up-to-date results, this article has been replaced with a continuously updating website where the statistics are recalculated after each new drawing. A matching site has also been created for PowerBall. Please visit:
For information on how the analysis was conducted, please continue reading the original article below.
Everyone wants to get rich, especially if it only costs them $1. Fortunately, many local state governments host lotteries, allowing their constituents to donate cash into the budget in hopes of winning a multi-million dollar prize. In practice, most lottery drawings consist of a series of balls drawn randomly from a chamber which should guarantee a fair opportunity for everyone to win. Theories of rigged lotteries and fraud, however, run rampant across the Internet.1 The system is accused of not holding live drawings, publishing winning numbers prior to drawing them, permitting the tweaking of data archives to avoid payouts, intentionally modifying balls, or using balls with painted numbers whose natural weight affects their likelihood of appearance.
Rather than debunk any of these theories of lottery fraud or rigging, this article reveals the trends and patterns of winning lottery numbers for public scrutiny using basic data analysis. It uses the results of the MegaMillions lottery and consists of the following analyses:
- distribution of winning numbers over time
- behavioral stratification of numbers based on numerical position
- relationship between mutually winning numbers
- common differences between winning numbers
- winning number frequency
While such scrutiny has the potential to yield useful results, such as identifying the existence or lack of "better numbers" to play, it is presented so as to appeal to those interested in number patterns.
Recently, MegaMillions drew the largest jackpot ever recorded at $370 million, exceeding the previous record held by PowerBall.2 The prizes were not always so large, nor did the participants span the United States. Beginning life in 1996, MegaMillions originally existed under a different nomer: "The Big Game." For two years this lottery was drawn weekly on Fridays until 1998, when a Tuesday drawing was added. Over the past eleven years, the number of participating states has doubled from only six to twelve. Although there are minor interstate variations regarding how jackpots are paid to winners, the basic game play remains the same.3
A single dollar in MegaMillions purchases a 1 in 175,711,536 chance of landing the jackpot. A player may opt for a "QuickPick" set of numbers generated automatically by a computer or they may choose to select their own numbers. Since 2005, MegaMillions allows players to choose five numbers between 1 and 56 plus a sixth number, the MegaBall, between 1 and 46. This, however, was not always the selection pool. When the "Big Game" was conceived, players were given a pool of numbers 1 through 50 to choose for their first five balls and numbers 1 through 25 for their sixth. Beginning in 1999, players were offered the numbers 1 through 50 for the five regular balls and 1 through 36 for the sixth. When the game became MegaMillions in 2002, players selected numbers between 1 and 52 for both the five regular balls and the MegaBall.4
As a first step, it was necessary to obtain a collection of MegaMillions’ lottery numbers. Fortunately, the New Jersey Lottery website has an archive of all winning numbers since September 6, 1996.5 As an added bonus, the archive of numbers exists in both HTML format for a pretty web presentation and as a delimited file which is conducive for importing into a database. For the purposes of this analysis, the winning lottery numbers were imported into Microsoft SQL Server Express for processing queries. Subsequent graphs were then created with Microsoft Excel to visualize the trends and behavior.6
The delimited file of winning lottery numbers contained the results for 1078 drawings and provides the following fields:
- Year – formatted as YYYY
- Month – formatted as MM
- Day – formatted as DD
- Day of Week – formatted as Tuesday and Friday
- Ball 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 – as an integer
- MegaBall – as an integer
- Prize Payout – when present, formatted as a decimal value
- Date – formatted as YYYYMMDD
Distribution of Winning Numbers Over Time
- [Author’s Note]: Updated Winning Distribution
The first trend analyzed was whether or not the numbers occur with an even distribution. Balls 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 were consolidated into a single list to analyze their overall frequency of occurrence. Each separate version of the lottery – two editions of BigGame and two editions of MegaMillions – were analyzed independently to identify any outlying activity. Subsequently, a similar grouping was performed to determine the distribution of the MegaBall number. The following charts detail the number of times each number was selected over the course of the the entire span of MegaMillion’s drawings.
Behavioral Stratification of Numbers Based on Numerical Position
- [Author’s Note]: Updated Ball 1 Analysis
- [Author’s Note]: Updated Ball 2 Analysis
- [Author’s Note]: Updated Ball 3 Analysis
- [Author’s Note]: Updated Ball 4 Analysis
- [Author’s Note]: Updated Ball 5 Analysis
- [Author’s Note]: Updated MegaBall Analysis
After looking at the behavior of the numbers in aggregate, the occurrence of numbers respective to their position was analyzed. Unfortunately, the lottery does not store the numbers in the order they were drawn. Rather, the data file saves the winning lottery numbers in ascending order.7 As such, positional analysis focused on how the numbers are stratified within their given position.
It is important to recognize the four variations of the lottery’s number pool has an impact on the ratio of occurrence for each number. As such, the data was broken into four sets titled (uncreatively) version 1, version 2, version 3 and version 4. Winning numbers per position were counted to determine the numbers that win most frequently within each set. Then, an aggregate winning percentage was assigned by combining the win ratio of each set multiplied by a time factor to obtain the overall likelihood of a number to win. The time factor represents the percentage share of drawings per version, which equates to 15.95%, 32.37%, 30.05% and 21.61%, respective to MegaMillions versions one (original) through four (current).
Each of the six graphs represent the top fifteen numbers per position:
- Green bars represent the current version of MegaMillions where players choose from numbers 1 through 56 and a MegaBall number of 1 through 46.
- Blue bars represent the weighted aggregation of a number’s winning percentage from all MegaMillions drawing variations since 1996.
- The red line represents a five variable polynomial trend line to the winning percentage of the current MegaMillions drawing pool.
Relationship Between Mutually Winning Numbers
Additionally, an analysis was performed to determine which numbers "win together." After all, a player does not need to pick all six numbers in order to win money from MegaMillions. Therefore, all possible combinations of balls 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 were formed to analyze the occurrence of ball relationships.
In the current version of MegaMillions, pairs of numbers win repeatedly quite often. In the lottery’s lifetime, particular pairs have won regularly.
- [Author’s Note]: Updated Winning Pairs
There are ten combinations of ball pairs: [1 2], [1 3], [1 4], [1 5], [2 3], [2 4], [2 5], [3 4], [3 5], & [4 5]. Using the MegaMillions data, there are 10,780 possible pairs of which 1503 are unique over the lottery’s lifetime. In the current version of MegaMillions, there are 2330 possible pairs of which 1202 are unique. Pairs of numbers occur quite frequently; 1426 pairs have occurred 10,703 times throughout the lottery’s lifetime compared with 692 pairs that have appeared 1820 times in since the fourth version of MegaMillions began.
The graph at right shows that in the current version of MegaMillions, pairs of numbers win repeatedly quite often. Over the lottery’s lifetime, particular pairs have won very regularly.
- [Author’s Note]: Updated Winning Triples
There are ten combinations of ball triples: [1 2 3], [1 2 4], [1 2 5], [1 3 4], [1 3 5], [1 4 5], [2 3 4], [2 3 5], [2 4 5], & [3 4 5]. There are 10,780 possible triples of which 8675 are unique over the lottery’s lifetime. Within the past version of MegaMillions, there are 2330 possible triples of which 2245 are unique. 1789 sets of triplets have repeated 3894 times in the lifetime of the lottery. Five sets of triplets have occurred five times and two sets of triplets have occurred six times. In the past year, however, only twenty-three sets of three balls have repeated twice.
There have been many repeat winning combinations of three numbers in the lifetime of the lottery, although it is a less frequent phenomenon in the current version.
In the graph to the right, there have been many repeat winning combinations of three numbers in the lifetime of the lottery, although it is a less frequent phenomenon in the current version.
- [Author’s Note]: Updated Winning Quadruples
There are five combinations of ball quadruples: [1 2 3 4], [1 2 3 5], [1 2 4 5], [1 3 4 5], & [2 3 4 5]. There are 5390 possible quadruplets of which 5328 are unique over the lottery’s lifetime. Since June 22, 2005 there are 1165 unique combinations of possible quadruplets. Sixty-two sets of four numbers have repeated twice since MegaMillions began. There have been zero sets of quadruplets winning more than once in the current version of MegaMillions.
There is only one combination of ball quintuples: [1 2 3 4 5]. Only one set of five numbers has ever repeated twice in the history of MegaMillions: (11, 14, 18, 33, 48).
Common Differences Between Winning Numbers
A natural extension of analyzing number groups was to identify the trends by which numbers differ from one another. For example, while probability gives the numbers 20, 21, 22, 23 and 24 the same chance of appearing as any other combination, is it likely? The numbers for the most recent version of MegaMillions were scrutinized to determine if there is a common difference between each ball.
Winning Number Frequency
- [Author’s Note]: Updated Hot Winning Numbers
Analyzing the distribution of numbers over time only provided half the picture in terms of any given number’s propensity towards winning. Another aspect to consider was the temporal frequency by which a number wins. For example, a number may have won on thirty occasions, but maybe they were all two years ago. To study this behavior, the time delta between each number’s appearance was cataloged to establish statistics for all numbers and for each number across the lifetime of the fourth version of MegaMillions. Then, the analysis was repeated using only the most recent six months of data to identify the cross section of numbers that win frequently consistently and which numbers are just a current flash in the pan.
Interesting as these trends may be, they will not assist in making the odds of winning the MegaMillions lottery any better if the system is truly fair and random. However, in the event there is some peculiar factor skewing the ball selection such that any of these trends continue, a player stands a mildly better chance of winning a partial prize through the selection of weighted numbers.
2 Roland, Neil. "Mega Millions Lottery Jackpot Now Record $370 Million." Bloomberg. Accessed October 2007 from http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601103&sid=afUgc0t0u3hg&refer=us.
6 Microsoft SQL Server Express. Accessed September 2007 from http://www.microsoft.com/sql/editions/express/default.mspx.
7 Ultimately, order does not matter with lottery numbers.