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Which lottery offers the best odds?
Image: Johnny Green - PA Wire
With the launch of a brand-new draw tonight, you might be wondering if EuroMillions is cashing in on our dreams of winning a cool million or two as our wallets continue to feel the squeeze.
So, if you're convinced that golden ticket is coming your way, which of the vast array of lotteries out there might give you the best odds of a big win and which are too good to be true?
Mark Griffiths, a psychologist who has investigated our love of a flutter, says that when we buy a lottery ticket, we're unsurprisingly far more interested in what we could do with the cash rather than how likely we are to actually win.
We overestimate the chances of something positive happening to us rather than something negative. And a result, we start pricing up Caribbean island cruises regardless of those all-important odds - which in fact vary dramatically from draw to draw.
One of the biggest lotteries on the planet, EuroMillions requires players to match five balls from 50 and two stars from nine winners to scoop the big prize - which comes in at around £11 million on average. You'll have a one-in-13 probability of winning something, which isn't bad.
Before you get those pound signs before the eyes, though, it's worth pointing out that you still only have a one-in-117 million chance of scooping tonight's huge £85 million jackpot.
How does it compare?
Think that's bad? Spare a thought for the Italians, whose SuperEnalotto demands that the winner matches six balls out of 90, with a one-in-around-623 million chance of a big win. That's the entire Italian population 10 times over.
At somewhat shorter odds, the UK's traditional Lotto gives you a one-in-14 million chance of winning the jackpot by matching up all six numbers out of a possible 49. In other words, if you bought one £1 ticket every single week, you'd be expected to win the jackpot just once in a quarter of a million years.
If you don't like the sound of that, the Irish lottery will give you better odds of scooping an albeit smaller jackpot at just over one-in-eight million.
A scratchcard is a whole different kettle of fish, one that seems to offer significantly better odds of winning than a straight lottery. The National Lottery's range has winnings from £1 to £1 million, with Rich for Life, for example, offering a top prize of £40,000 every year for life.
Odds of winning something typically come in at around one-in-four or -five; much better than your average lottery - and Rich for Life is actually slightly better at odds of one-in-3.78. But that includes a large number of very low level winnings, including £5, the same price as a single scratch card in this case. So, if you do match up those symbols, your 'win' could easily be more of a break-even than an actual gain.
And then there are premium bonds, which we should technically think of as savings rather than gambling. Around half the UK's population have them, which gives each holder a chance to win up to £1 million every month for as long as we hold them. But that means we have a staggering one-in-4.2 billion chance of the top prize.
Are premium bonds a waste of money?
How to beat the odds
Forget it. The laws of probability mean the only thing you can do to increase your chances of winning is to buy more tickets - costing you more money.
In fact, if you've got a lot of money to burn, you could take a leaf out of Irish-Polish businessman Stefan Klincewicz' book and remove the element of chance altogether.
Getting involved in a syndicate will increase your chances of a win but means splitting the winnings, but Klincewicz took it to a whole new level. Backed up by some hefty calculations, he bought up most of the 1,947,792 possible combinations available on the Irish lottery with a group of friends. They famously forked out just under a million Irish pounds (in the days before the euro) and came away with a small profit when his numbers came in, including one of three winning tickets for the £1.7million jackpot.
When it comes to cash competitions, you could improve your 'luck' by choosing a smaller jackpot with greater chances of winning. So think strategically about the number of people who might enter a specific draw. Small scale draws, such as those in your local paper or on the back of your favourite jar of Bolognese could be the ones to go for.
This is particularly true if it requires a further step to enter, such as correctly answering a question, because lots of your rivals won't bother. It's the same deal with bingo and bingo websites - find the one with the smallest number of players for a chance to win, not the one with the largest jackpot that will attract the most entries.
A prize as emotive as winning the lottery will always attract con artists. The most common type of fraud involves an email congratulating you on a recent win (often on an overseas lottery) and requesting a certain amount in administration fees or taxes to release your money. Be assured you'll never see the cash.
Others require you to make an additional purchase in order to qualify for prizes that simply don't exist. Then there are the scratchcard cons, which make the 'winner' call a premium rate number to receive their prize code, which can often prove to be worth less than the cost of the call itself.
And of course, there were the infamous Reader's Digest mass mailings, criticised by Trading Standards Institute for targeting the vulnerable and elderly with misleading information about a large cash prize they shouldn't discuss with anyone else.
Luckily this last practice has been stamped out, but the number of lottery scams is growing as economic times get harder and we all look for a little relief. And once you've handed your cash over, there is virtually no chance of recovering it.
The advice, as always, is to read the small print and check the validity of the draw with the government's consumer rights bureau Consumer Direct before you do anything. We all deserve a little luck now and again, but be realistic - if you haven't actually bought a ticket the only winner is likely to be the fraudster.
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