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Everyone wants to win the lottery, but can you increase your odds?

Any day now, my December Visa bill will land in my mailbox with a thud, jolting me from my blissful Christmas slumber.

I can ask myself, "How did this happen?" but it's pretty obvious based on the receipts stuffing my wallet. Or I can work through the stages of grief, starting with denial.

Either way, a payment is "DUE NOW."

So I shift to solution mode. Tighten the already tight budget? Naaaaah. Wait! I could win the lottery.

I consulted with Richard Lustig, a seven-time Florida Lottery grand prize winner from Orlando who was making the rounds in Tampa last week. He held a workshop Friday in Largo to promote his mini book, Learn How to Increase Your Chances of Winning the Lottery.

Some background, which honestly is more interesting than the book: Lustig, now 62, was living paycheck to paycheck when the Florida Lottery was established 25 years ago. He started playing scratch-off tickets and, as he won a few prizes, began jotting down ideas for improving his chances.

After his fourth big win — he says he has won more than $1 million in grand prizes — he figured it wasn't just luck. People began asking about his techniques. Rather than give them away, he wrote a seven-page report in 2002 and sold copies for $30 each. His home printer couldn't keep up with demand, and a book was born.

The book, which at 31 pages reads more like a pamphlet, came out in September 2010. About 25,000 copies have been sold worldwide, he says. It goes for $40 on Amazon.

The bookella has some logical advice, like checking the Florida Lottery's website (flalottery.com) for which scratch-off tickets have remaining grand prizes, then buying only those tickets. Or mailing in losing tickets on second-chance scratch-off games, which many people don't.

More than once, he writes, "Don't spend more than you can afford," which if you need to buy a book to learn that, you've got way bigger issues.

The book also has some scratch-your-head advice, like buy tickets early to avoid long lines, which seems more about convenience than strategy. And it purposely makes no mention of how much he bets daily because he doesn't want to influence people's spending.

Then there's the stuff that wouldn't add up in your Stats 101 class. Lustig says play the same numbers every time for every drawing and never do computer-generated quick picks. Check previous winning combinations — again on the website — and never bet those because he can't imagine the same set winning twice.

"The odds have got to be astronomical," he writes.

That's true. The odds of winning millions of dollars are astronomical on any lottery ticket. But the odds aren't any higher that the same combination of numbers will come in more than once. That's because the winning set of numbers isn't removed from the pot after each drawing; it goes right back in. In the math world, it's known as "independent events.''

Try as you might — and many have — there are no guarantees for winning the lottery, aside from buying up every possible number, said Manoug Manougian, a mathematics professor at the University of South Florida. And even that would be risky because other winners might share the prize.

"There is no such thing as strategies for winning the lottery," he said. "And if there was a strategy, why would I tell anyone else?"

In 1991, Manougian wrote a book with his son about the origins of lotteries, dating to the Egyptians. He wants to set the record straight.

"I laugh because all you have to do is look at the history of lotteries to know there will never be a system of picking the winning numbers," he said. "If there were, lotteries would not exist."

People play with the hope and excitement of winning the big prize, he said. It should be about fun, not selling dubious tips.

Lustig isn't rattled by the mathematicians and statisticians who question his methods and motives. He stands firm that math is part, not all, of the lottery equation. As proof, he points to his seven big wins, including a $842,152.91 Mega Money prize in 2002. Then he asks critics: "How many lottery grand prizes have you won?"

I'll give him that point but, just in case, I better write that Visa check.

Susan Thurston can be reached at sthurston@tampabay.com.

Everyone wants to win the lottery, but can you increase your odds? 01/07/13 [Last modified: Monday, January 7, 2013 8:04pm]
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