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Mega Millions, by the Lucky Numbers

The Mega Millions jackpot survived another drawing and is now at a record $500 million. If you, like millions of Americans, are planning on trying your luck, there are a few numbers to keep in mind.

 The first and arguably most important data point -- to keep your expectations, and perhaps delusions, in check -- is the odds. The odds of winning the Mega Millions jackpot ahead of the last drawing were estimated at about 1 in 176 million, according to lottery officials. And the odds of winning any Mega Millions prizes were about 1 in 40, perhaps a bit closer to your NCAA pool.

Luck, By the Numbers

Also interesting are the historically lucky and unlucky numbers. Bespoke Investment Group identified the Mega Millions numbers that have come up the most and least often in the 705 drawings leading up to last night. To win the jackpot, you've got to correctly guess all five regular numbers, which are drawn out of a set of balls numbered 1 through 56, and the Mega Ball, drawn from a set of balls numbered 1 through 46.

Historical trends and past performance are not reliable indicators of the future – that’s something investors and gamblers know very well. Nonetheless, we love to glean what we can from any and all data available so that even bad decisions – if that’s what they turn out to be -- feel informed.

According to Bespoke’s analysis, there are 8 numbers that have come up as ball 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5 in 10% or more of the drawings -- #48, 36, 53, 12, 27, 31, 51 and 52.  The numbers that came up least often were 41, 49, 47, 37, and 34.

Mega Ball

The numbers that came up most often for the Mega Ball: 36, 9, 7, 35, and 2, with the #36 popping up 3.55% of the time. And the least: 28, 32, 46, 14 and 1, with #28 making the sparsest showing of just six drawings of the 705.

The problem, as Bespoke points out, is how to use that information: “Do you go with the numbers that show up the most often because they're hot, or do you go with the numbers that show up the least often because they're well overdue?”

As unsatisfying as it might be, the answer is neither; the utility of the data is limited to entertaining our curiosity. "I think we’d need to see similar results over thousands and thousands of drawings instead of just 705 before we could conclude that there is something other than coincidence behind the numbers that are being drawn more or less frequently," says Bespoke's Justin Walter. "Using the analysis to pick numbers wouldn’t help at all really because the odds of winning are still extremely low regardless," he says.