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### Winning the Lottery

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Date: 01/30/97 at 06:33:30
From: Zink, Steve
Subject: Winning the Lottery

I would like to know what branch of mathematics I need to study in
order to be able to write a formula that will approximate the outcome
of the lottery.  I know that it sounds far-fetched, but please hear me
out.  My lotto is comprised of 6 numbers: A, B, C, D, E, F.  In
reveiwing the history of all the draws, I can see a type of pattern in
the A's column. For instance, approximately every 10 to 13 draws A
will equal 10. The other numbers in A sort of do likewise, but there
are too many for me to keep correlated in my head. Could you please
tell me where I might go to learn how to write a formula that predicts
the outcome, if there is such a thing?

Thanks,
Steve Zink
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Date: 01/30/97 at 10:13:44
From: Doctor Mitteldorf
Subject: Re: Winning the Lottery

Dear Steve,

Scientists are always looking for patterns in physical data, and
market traders are always looking for patterns in stock prices.
Sometimes our eyes make up patterns in data that's really quite
random. So mathematicians have come up with rules that can tell
objectively whether a pattern is really there, or whether it's just
a chance combination of numbers.

The rules aren't straightforward and simple, because they depend on
while to take a course in first year statistics, or read an elementary
statistics text; there will be lots of examples of real number
patterns and false patterns that look real.

This should be an important concern of yours before you actually put
money down in the lottery based on your ideas: check that the pattern
you are seeing is "statistically significant". That's the term that
means it's really in the data, and not likely to be just a series of
random occurrences.

In the example you give, suppose the first number A can be anything
from 00 to 99. Suppose you see the number 10 come up once, and then
again 13 days later. This might seem a remarkable thing to you, but
it is not "statistically significant" because in any set of 14
numbers, there are 91 different pairs of numbers, so the chances are
91/100 that one of the pairs will be the same. If the number 10 came
up in the same slot a third time within 13 more days, that still
wouldn't be statistically significant; only after the fourth such
occurence would you really start to suspect that it's a pattern you
might be able to bank on.

Statistics has a lot to tell us in situations like this, and, as in
the case I just cited, much of it isn't really in line with our
intuitions. I strongly recommend that you learn enough to understand
statistical significance before you risk any money on a pattern that
you've found in lottery numbers.

-Doctor Mitteldorf,  The Math Forum
Check out our web site!
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Associated Topics:
High School Probability
High School Statistics

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