Lottery Strategy: Odds of Winning the Same in Large Cities, Small Towns

Win or lose, where you buy a lottery ticket doesn't make a difference.

ByABC News
August 20, 2012, 10:10 AM

Aug. 20, 2012 — -- If you've ever thought that where you bought a lottery ticket would make a difference in whether you'd win or lose, it's time to rethink your lottery strategy. No matter where you play the lottery, the odds of winning are the same.

It's all random. It's all luck, experts said.

In 2012, three out of 11 Mega million jackpot winners hailed from the top 10 U.S. metro areas. But mixed in with winners from Los Angeles, New York City and Atlanta were winners from areas with much smaller populations, such as Red Bud, Ill., Milford Mill, Md., Pomona, Calif., Ottawa, Kan.

"It's probably that much of the country does live in small towns and small cities, and maybe they are just more predisposed to buy more lottery tickets than people who live in big cities," Michael Shackleford, who operates the gaming site Wizard of Odds, told ABC News.

"I really don't think there's a conspiracy here. I think everyone has the same chances," Schackleford said.

Lottery tickets can be bought at more than 240,000 locations in North America. According to fiscal sales of lottery tickets for 2005, the last year for which data were available, "New York led the U.S. with sales of $6.2 billion, followed by Massachusetts with sales of $4.5 billion," according to the North American Association of State and Provincial Lotteries, which represents 52 lottery organizations.

In the past five years, the Mega Millions jackpot has twice been won by people buying tickets in Brooklyn, N.Y., which counts 2.5 million residents. But Kalamazoo, in southwest Michigan, whose population is about 74,000 people, tied with Brooklyn when it came to winning those pots of money.

And earlier this month, a winning Powerball ticket was sold in Lapeer, Mich.. The Powerball $337 million is still unclaimed.

Another Powerball winner for 2012 came from Seymour, Conn., which has a population of about 16,000 people. And, Cedar Rapids, Iowa, is not only the hometown of Ashton Kutcher and Elijah Wood but of the Shipping 20, the group of 20 co-workers who hit the $240 million jackpot in June.

While it's become common to see little-known cities, such as Sharpsburg, Ga., and Piqua, Ohio, make the news after a big jackpot, winning all comes down to chance.

"Every ticket has an equal chance of winning. The drawing is completely random. There's no way to bias a random drawing toward particular locations. If there were it wouldn't be random, which would mean that the lottery is cheating," Mark Chu-Carroll, a math blogger, wrote in an email to ABC News.

"True randomness frequently produces what looks like patterns," Chu-Caroll continued. "If you flip a fair coin 10,000 times, at some point in the sequence of flips, you'll probably see 10 heads in a row. Taken by itself, that seems very unlikely, but as a part of the larger, random sequence, if you didn't see something like that, it's a sign that there's something fishy going on."

When Richard Lustig, a multi-time lottery winner, offered ways to increase one's chances of winning the game, critics countered,

"The lottery works randomly. Unlike poker or blackjack, there's nothing you can do to gain an advantage at this. You can't make decisions to influence the outcome," Zac Bissonnette, author of "Debt-Free U," told Business Insider..

So there's no great significance to the fact that the Powerball jackpot was won by residents of Harding, Pa., Lithonia, Ga., Lakeville, Minn., Fall River, Mass., Catskill, N.Y., and Abingdon, Md., in 2011.

"If you look at the number of ticket buyers in a city compared to a small town, there are a couple of confounding patterns," said Chu-Caroll. "Every small town has a couple of stores selling lottery tickets. If you actually look at the number of vendors in the big cities, compared with the number of vendors outside of the big cities, there are actually more lottery vendors outside of the cities. And if you look at ticket-buying patterns, the group of ticket buyers is a much smaller proportion of the population outside of the cities."

But, there is no rhyme or reason for why winners come from a particularly area, experts said.

"It is not known until after the drawing where the ticket was sold. There is just as much of a chance of it being sold in a small town as a large town, the city as the suburbs, the North as the South, the East as the West," Andrea Brancato, a Michigan lottery PR director, told ABC News in an email.

"If you look at the list of Mega Millions winners, for example, you will see that there are large cities (Los Angeles, Richmond, Va., Dallas) all the way to small towns (Lapeer, Mich., and many of the other places that I've not heard of!)."