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Skip Powerball And Play This Instead, Expert Says

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With the Powerball jackpot hovering at well over $1 billion, it seems like any “investment” you could afford would be worth the chance at the big prize. But one lottery expert says that unless you’re a professional player—who can spend five or six figures at a time per game, or who is part of a big-money team pool—you should skip Powerball and concentrate your efforts on smaller games.

A man purchases a Powerball lottery ticket at a convenience store in Washington, DC. AFP PHOTO / . [+] SAUL LOEB

“Aside from high-odds lucky jackpot wins, the real money is made in the trenches of the pick-3, pick-4 and pick-5 games. This is where you will find the successful pro players firmly embedded with their charts, graphs, wheels and proven winning systems,” says the aptly named Steve Player, a lottery expert who has won two major jackpots, New York Pick-6 Lotto and Florida Fantasy Five. He’s won lotteries in 27 states and holds records for the highest single day payouts on pick-3 and pick-4 numbers, he says. He “predicts” winning numbers for his subscriber base of half a million people and recommends a system of regular betting.

Gallery: 10 Steps To Take When You Win A Lottery Jackpot

Most probability professionals will agree that you can’t game a fair system. They scoff at any kind of scheme that promises better odds of winning a fair game with a random drawing, as each number has its own equal chance of being drawn each time.

“Financially, it most definitely does not make sense to play the lottery. The vast majority of lottery players lose money,” says University of Southern California mathematics professor Kenneth Alexander, who specializes in probability and something called “subadditive Euclidean functionals.” He dismisses anyone who makes money selling winning advice or number-selection tricks as a charlatan. “The people making money off the lottery are mostly those who want to sell you useless schemes to try to win. If there were financially sound ways to beat the lottery, hedge funds and the rest of Wall Street would have been all over it long ago. People who play it should look at it as entertainment, coming out of the part of their budget that covers movies and ice cream cones. If the feeling that you hypothetically could win is worth $2 to you, then buy a ticket, but just know that that feeling is almost certainly the only thing you’ll get for your money.”

Why you should stay away from Powerball

Alexander points out that each possible Powerball entry has odds of 1 in 292 million, in every drawing. “The only thing you can change is reducing your chances of having to share the jackpot, if you hypothetically do win. You do that by picking unpopular numbers–typically those more than 31 since they are no one’s birthday,” he says.

Player calls Powerball, and its high-caliber cousins, Mega Millions and pick-5 hybrid games, “the crown jewels of the lottery game kingdom” that should only be pursued by serious players “who have amassed considerable wagering budgets from other games that they have learned to win consistently.”

To win the big games, a player must correctly choose five numbers from a field of between 30 and 75 numbers, and then pick the right number, in addition, from a separate field of between six and 35 numbers. “I call this the ‘double whammy’ of all lottery games,” he says. “With several jackpots already posted in excess of $500 million, these games are the worst places you could ever choose to donate your wagering dollars. These games are cash cows for the lottery, designed to produce large jackpots that they can advertise in order to sell more tickets.”

Alexander says: “My favorite description of Powerball odds is that if you’d been buying 1,800 tickets per week since the time of Jesus, there’s a better-than-even chance you wouldn’t have won the jackpot yet.”

What just might work

Again, there are no absolute strategies to winning lotteries—but both Player and Alexander have ideas on how to get an edge.

Player’s progressive-play method for amateurs goes like this:

  1. Start at your state’s pick-3 game and play “boxed” bets, which allow you to match winning numbers in any order. Then try the same in pick-4 games.
  2. When you’ve started winning, reinvest that money into “straight” wagers in the pick-3 and pick-4 games, in which you must match winning numbers in the order they were drawn.
  3. When you’ve begun winning the pick-3 and pick-4 games, move on to pick-5 or pick-6.
  4. Only when you have a lot of money amassed that you’re willing to lose, head on to the major jackpot games, such as Powerball.

“Here is the bottom line which I have derived from over 35 years of playing and winning the lottery,” Player says, “the more you learn about the games and all of the patterns and trends that affect the numbers which are drawn, the better you will get at winning …Once you take the time to learn the proper methods, this is a place full of smiling faces; players reveling in the joy of the challenge and the sweet smell of victory. These are the players who look at the lottery as a potential ATM machine that keeps changing its PIN number. It is our job to figure out what that PIN number will be today, because this ATM machine never runs out of cash.”

Alexander notes that the ways people have successfully figured out how to win—besides outright fraud and cheating—is by detecting patterns in when and where winning scratch-off tickets are distributed. He also mentioned a way that well-trained mathematicians who belonged to a lottery ring figured out how to game a lottery called Cash WinFall in Massachusetts by timing their ticket-buying to take advantage of a loophole that allowed more winners to take lower amounts every three months.

“But this does not apply to Powerball, because there’s no relevant information in advance of the drawing,” Alexander said, adding, “it doesn’t matter what game you play–pick 3, pick 4, Powerball, etcetera–and it doesn’t matter what strategy you use, you are extremely likely to lose money in the long run.”

Don’t throw money away on Powerball tickets. The smaller games deliver better results for amateur players.

Never miss a Pick 3 draw!

Thu 11/26/2020 1:59 PM

Wed 11/25/2020 Winning Numbers

  • DAY:
  • 1
  • 1
  • 9
  • NIGHT:
  • 4
  • 3
  • 1

Odds of Winning: 1 in 1,000

Check my numbers

Are you holding on to a winning ticket? Here’s an easy way to find out.

enter your numbers

Generate Random Numbers

Generate random numbers with our interactive tool.

Scan to Enter

The Virginia Lottery app lets you scan your tickets to enter 2nd Chance promotions. Download the app, scan and watch for the drawings!

How to Play Pick 3
Pick 3 Prizes & Odds
Pick 3 Past Numbers

With two chances to win every day, multiple ways to play and a top prize of $500, it’s no wonder Pick 3 is so popular! Join in on the excitement!

And don’t forget Boost, a great add-on that gives you even more chances to win!

How to play Pick 3

Who doesn’t love options? You have them with Pick 3! Draws are in the afternoon and evening for double the opportunity to win up to $500. Choose the wager and play type to get started. Or select Boost for five extra sets of numbers. Click for a closer view of the playslip to learn more.

Here’s how to play Pick 3:

  • Choose your play amount. You can play Pick 3 for $1 or 50¢.
  • Choose your play type. You’ve got options, so see the Play Types section for detailed descriptions.
  • Choose your draw. You can play a day draw, night draw or both!
  • Choose your own numbers on a playslip. Pick a three-digit number from 000 through 999.
  • Or use Easy Pick and let the computer choose for you.
  • We draw winning numbers every day at 1:59 p.m. and 11 p.m.

Play types

One of the things that makes Pick 3 fun is that there are so many ways to play! Here they are.

  • Exact order: Play it straight! Match all three digits in the same order as drawn.
  • Any order: Give yourself options! Match all three of the digits drawn; the order doesn’t matter.
  • 50/50: The best of both worlds — split a $1 play in half! Put 50¢ on exact order and 50¢ on any order.
  • Combo: Cover all the bases! Play $1 exact order on every possible combination of a three-digit number.
  • Pairs: Choose only two digits! Win with an exact order match regardless of what third digit is drawn.

Boost it

Sometimes you need a little extra push to win big. Pick 3 with Boost is just what you need for more chances to win. Here’s how VA Lottery Pick 3 Boost works:

  • Use a Pick 3 Boost playslip, or tell the clerk to add Boost to any Pick 3 play.
  • For a $1 wager, the Boost costs $1; for a 50¢ wager, the Boost costs 50¢.
  • Add Boost, and you will receive five extra sets of easy pick numbers.
  • If one of your Boost sets is an exact match to the numbers drawn, you win $100 for a $1 play or $50 for a 50¢ play.

Play options

It’s impossible to get bored when you play Pick 3. Try these different play options to spice up your next game.

  • Want to play the same numbers for more than one draw on a single ticket? Buy a Multi-Draw ticket to play 91 or fewer consecutive Pick 3 game draws on one ticket. Please keep in mind that the ticket price increases for each draw you add.
  • Thinking ahead to a special date? You can buy a ticket for one future draw date. It’s called a Future draw. Mark the Optional Plays box on your playslip, and let the clerk know which future draw date you have in mind.
  • Love those numbers so much you want them on more than one ticket? You can Repeat your play and have the same numbers printed on more than one ticket up to 20 times.
  • the ticket price by the number of draws you choose.

Fourteen chances to win every week

Never miss a Pick 3 game again. You have 14 chances to win every week, so you don’t want to miss a game. Remember these quick facts.

  • Pick 3 numbers are drawn twice a day, seven days a week.
  • We have a little break between selling and drawing the numbers, so you can’t buy tickets starting at 1:53 p.m. for that day’s draw and again starting at 10:45 p.m. for that night’s draw — just something to keep in mind if you’re playing close to draw time.

Watch the draws!

You can watch the draws live twice a day at 1:59 p.m. and 11 p.m. by clicking the Winning Numbers tab at the top of the page or by visiting us on Facebook.com/valottery. You can even watch them later. Draws stay on our site!

Legal stuff

Need more info? Here’s our official rules for Pick 3.

Lottery profits benefit public education

Since 1999, all Virginia Lottery profits have gone to K-12 public schools in Virginia. In Fiscal Year 2020, the Lottery generated more than $595 million for K-12 public schools in Virginia. Every time you play a Virginia Lottery game, you’re playing a role in helping kids have a brighter future.

Many prizes and ways to win

One of the best parts of a Pick 3 game is seeing what you can win. If you match all three numbers in exact order, you win $500. But there are loads of prizes for other play types. Match three digits in any order, and you get $160. Want to play a pair? Match only two digits, and you get $50 no matter what third number is drawn.

Check out this table to see exactly what you can win:

1 in 500
1 in 1,000

Note: All prizes based on a $1 play. 50¢ play wins ½ of the prize shown.

With two chances to win every day, multiple ways to play and a top prize of $500, it's no wonder Pick 3 is so popular. Join in on the excitement!