The Frequently Asked Questions section includes information about how lotteries work, strategies for play and the rules under which Mario's Lottery Groups operate. It is the responsibility of all group members to be aware of the rules and by joining one or more groups, a person has agreed to the rules.
Product names used in this web site are for identification purposes only. All trademarks and registered trademarks such as Lotto 649, Lotto Max, Super 7, Mega Millions and Powerball are the property of their respective owners.
Mario's Lottery Groups is not affiliated with, or represents in any capacity, the Interprovincial Lottery Corporation, the five Canadian regional lottery corporations or any other lottery corporation. Tickets are purchased from an authorized retailer of lottery products and are not resold to group members. The tickets are held in trust as per the terms and conditions described on this website. Mario's Lottery Groups is a not-for-profit enterprise for the purpose of organizing lottery group play as promoted and encouraged by each of the five Canadian regional lottery corporations.
- Is group play for me?
The following is an example that may help you decide. Say you just bought 5 Lotto 649 tickets for the next draw. The jackpot is $20 million. You meet a friend who tells you they have just bought 95 tickets for the same draw as part of a lottery group purchase. Your friend invites you to join the group by simply adding your 5 tickets to the group's 95 tickets. You cannot decide what to do, so your friend offers you the option to decide after the draw. You sign your 5 tickets and the group leader signs their 95 tickets and all 100 tickets are placed in an envelope. The envelope is given to an independent auditor to hold. After the draw is held, the auditor checks all the tickets and reports back to you and the group leader. There are two cases to consider. If the auditor reports that none of the 100 tickets won the jackpot, then your decision on whether or not to join the group is moot.
But, what if the auditor reports that one of the 100 tickets won the $20 million jackpot and now you are faced with the choice of whether or not to join the group. If you decide to join the group, then you are guaranteed to win $1 million (your 5 tickets represent a 5% share of the jackpot). If you decide to not join the group, then you have a 5% chance of winning $20 million or a 95% chance of winning nothing. In other words, by not joining the group, you are effectively making a $1 million wager on the hopes of winning $20 million. Most people, when faced with that option would join the group and take the $1 million. There are very few millionaires even, that would make that kind of wager. If you are the type of person that would take the guaranteed $1 million, then group play is for you.
- Does the above example ever happen in real life?
Yes it has, several times. The Michigan Lottery sold a series of scratch tickets in 2005 and 2006 where the grand prize was a free trip to attend a live drawing for a chance at $2 million. The drawing was always held at a special event such as half time at a football game or a community carnival. For each special draw, there were only 5 finalists. Prior to the draw, the 5 finalists had an opportunity to meet "back stage". In many cases, the discussions revolved around the possibility of splitting the prize evenly among the 5 finalists.
Michigan Lottery held these draws between 10 and 20 times. Every variety of situation arose. In some cases, there was no decision to split and a single person won the $2 million. In many cases, all 5 contestants decided to split the money and each person "won" a guaranteed $400,000 even before the draw was held. There was one interesting situation where 4 persons had decided to split but the fifth person decided not to. The draw was held and the group of 4 persons won. The fifth person was like the fictional person in the above answer. He decided to wager $400,000 with the hope of winning $2 million. He was either very rich or very foolish.
- How does one join a group?
For first time members, it is recommended they use Shopify for their first payment. The credit card payment method captures full name, address and phone number. This information is used for positive identification in the event of a big win. Interac money transfer will also be accepted for first time members as long as you send, in an email, your full name, address and phone numbers. For general information on how to join a group, check out Joining and payment options.
- How much does it cost to join a group?
The cost to join a group is $20 per share. There is also the option to buy multiple shares.
- How long does one remain a member of a group?
One remains a member of a group until the groups ends. A group ends when it either runs out of money or all winnings are dispursed to members as in the case of a large win.
- How are the group numbers selected?
The group numbers are selected based on the following strategy. Draw history has shown that certain numbers and patterns are very popular with lottery players. If those numbers turn out to be the winning numbers, there is a very high probability that the jackpot is split among many winning tickets. Also, for games that offer pari-mutuel prizes, the prize amounts are much lower than average if the winning numbers are popular numbers. Mario's Lottery Groups only play numbers than have been historically shown to be unpopular with lottery players. Therefore, if we win the jackpot, we most likely will not be splitting the jackpot with others. Also, when we win pari-mutuel prizes, they are always larger than the average.
The number selection strategy is explained with examples later in this FAQ. See the questions, "Why is it recommended to pick your own numbers?" and "How popular are some number combinations". There are many more examples in the Blog.
- Do group members get a copy of the tickets prior to the draw?
Yes. Prior to all group plays, an email is sent to all membes with links to scanned copies of the tickets. The only exception are in cases where the same set of number are played in successive draws.
- How are winnings distributed?
Small wins are kept in the group and used to buy more tickets. Medium size winnings are distributed to members. Usually this is done by crediting the account of the respective members. Winnngs can also be paid to members via bank transfer or mailing a cheque. The payment preference is up to the individual group member. Unlike some lottery groups advertised on the Internet, a percentage of the winnings are NOT held back as a fee. Any fees though, encurred to transfer funds to a member are the responsibility of the member and are deducted from the amount being transferred. Also, any fees incurred to redeem a winning ticket are deducted from the balance of the group holding the winning ticket. Examples of redemption fees are the cost of a registered letter or travel costs to the lottery office.
- How are Lotto 649 and Lotto Max free tickets handled?
When a group wins free tickets, the group is credited $3 for each free Lotto 649 ticket and $5 for each free Lotto Max ticket. The free tickets are held until a future group play. The redeemed free tickets are allocated to the various groups participating in a group play. There is no attempt to allocate the free tickets to the same group that won the tickets.
- How can one increase the odds of winning the lottery?
There is only one way to increase one's odds of winning the lottery and that is by buying more tickets. The more tickets you buy, the better your chances of winning. By joining a group, you are effectively buying more tickets. For example, with $3 you can buy one Lotto 649 ticket and have one chance in 14 million of hitting the jackpot. By joining a group with say 28 members, your $3 can then allow you to have a share in 28 tickets. Now your odds of hitting the lottery are only 1 in 500,000.
- What is the variable share option and how does it work?
The variable share option is a method of minimizing how much one spends on a lottery group while still trying to win a target share of the jackpot. The following is an explanation of how it works. A member can set a preference to win a predetermined amount. Then, as the number of shares in the group increases, the organizer will allocate the appropriate number of shares to the member to maintain their preferred target win.
For example, say an M group is buying tickets for a $60 million Lotto Max jackpot and a member's target win is $1 million. Initially, the member is allocated one share in the group. If the number of shares in the group exceeds 60, then the member is allocated 2 shares. If the number of shares in the group exceeds 120, then the member is allocated 3 shares. And so on.
- What are hot and cold numbers?
Hot numbers are numbers that have been drawn more often than average. Cold numbers are numbers that have been drawn less often than average.
- Can the use of hot and cold numbers help one predict lottery draws?
No. The numbers have no memory. Whether the numbers are drawn using a ball drop machine or a computer, they do not remember how many times they were drawn. In a completely random process, past drawings have absolutely no influence on future drawings. Lottery companies expend considerable time and expense ensuring the draws are completely random.
- There are all kinds of advertised systems that use hot and cold numbers to predict the lottery. Are there any that work?
No, they do not help to predict the lottery draws. They only make money for the person selling the system. Besides, if the prediction system did work, why do they bother trying to sell them? Why don't they just use the systems themselves to make millions? Why? Because the supposedly sure-fire prediction systems do not work.
- But what if hot and cold numbers could be used to predict the lottery?
Let us assume by some miracle of nature the balls could remember how many times they were drawn and they could store that information somehow in their little Indian rubber brains. And also assume the balls knew what the proper statistical average should be for each ball and could also store that information. And also assume that the balls, having that newly acquired information, cared that they were either hot or cold, that is, picked more or less than average. And also assume the balls had the means to act on that information. Say, little arms that pushed other balls out the way to somehow influence the next ball to drop. Then if all those wild assumptions were true, then one still could not use hot and cold balls to predict the lottery because the draws that the lottery corporations advertise are not the only draws that are held. Before each official draw, there are a number of test drawings used to test the equipment and make sure everything is OK. So a ball that has been reported as cold may have been drawn several times during the test draws and may in fact be a hot ball or simply an average ball. On top of all that, the lottery corporations use more than one set of balls. For example, Lotto 649 and Lotto Max draws are conducted by Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation. They randomly select which set of balls to use before each draw.
- Are there any means of predicting the lottery?
No. Absolutely not! Lottery draws are random.
Lottery corporations spend a lot of money making sure that all lottery draws are random. But lottery corporations do not mind the fact that there are many people who believe otherwise. A lot of money is spent on systems and eventually tickets on failed attempts to "beat" the lottery. When people are sure they have "beaten the system", they spend a lot of money on tickets, making even more profit for the lottery companies. The same thing happens in casinos. The casinos make millions of dollars on people who think they have devised the ultimate system of beating the odds.
- What is done to ensure the draws are random?
The following are some of the procedures followed by Ontario Lottery and Gaming to ensure the draws are random. OLG conducts the national Lotto 649 and Lotto Max draws. Other lottery companies follow similar procedures.
The balls used are made of solid Indian rubber. Each one is identical in every way. Even the number on the ball itself is not printed on but embedded in the rubber. The number is a part of the ball itself. Each ball has the identical weight, diameter, density and bounce. At least once every three months the lottery balls are taken to Quantum Inspection and Testing Limited, a Burlington, Ontario-based laboratory for testing
The balls are checked with a micrometer to determine that they are exactly 50 mm in diameter. They are measured for resiliency, that is, how well they bounce. This is done two ways. Using a resiliometer, a weight is dropped on a ball and how much it bounces is measured. The balls are video tapped as they are dropped. The video tape is reviewed in freeze frame to measure the exact height of each bounce. The balls are submerged in water and their volume is determined by how much water is displaced. Each ball is x-rayed to ensure that there are no impurities or cavities within the ball. Each ball is weighed using a digital scale. Each lottery ball must be within one gram of a mean weight. If not, the set is thrown out.
The lottery balls are manufactured by Ryo-Catteau from Wattrelos, France. Ryo-Catteau is the world's foremost manufacturer of lottery machines and balls. They insure that each ball is identical in every way. Lottery balls last on average of 3 years. A set of 49 lottery balls from Ryo-Catteau cost $13,000. That is almost $300 a ball.
- What is the best way to win the lottery?
Buy lots of tickets. The more tickets you buy, the better your chances of winning. Of course, that can be very expensive. The best way of buying more tickets is by joining a group. It is a tradeoff. By joining a group you end up with a good chance of winning a share of the jackpot compared to a poor chance of winning the entire jackpot.
- How does one choose which lottery to play?
First and foremost, only play lotteries with a relatively high expected value (payout). Lotteries with fixed jackpots generally will have a fixed expected value. Lotteries with variable sized jackpots will have a variable expected value. In general, the larger the jackpot, the larger the expected value. So in general, play lotteries with variable sized jackpots and only play when the jackpots are large. Examples of lotteries with variable sized jackpots are Lotto 649 and Lotto Max. The jackpot sizes vary because whenever a jackpot is not won, the money allocated to the jackpot prize is rolled over to the jackpot of the next draw. This rule has resulted in record jackpots such as the $63.4 million Lotto 649 jackpot on April 13, 2013.
- What is expected value?
Expected value, also referred to as payout, is the theoretical value of any given wager or bet. It is calculated by multiplying the probabilities of all the outcomes times the prize awarded for each outcome. The resulting values are added up to arrive at the expected value. For example, if one was awarded $10 for correctly guessing a number from 1 to 10. Then the expected value of the wager is $1. The probability of correctly guessing is 10% times the prize of $10 gives a result of $1. A simplified way of calculating expected value is the amount of money paid out on any given lottery compared to the amount of money taken in. In these cases, expected value is often expressed as a percentage. That is the percentage of money awarded in prizes. Most lotteries have an average expected value of 50%. The expected value of a $1 wager is therefore $0.50
- How does the expected value of a lottery vary?
There are two types of lotteries. One, those lotteries with a fixed prize structure and therefore a fixed expected value. Examples of those are Ontario 49, Western 649 and most scratch tickets. And two, those lotteries whose prize structure varies. Those lotteries have jackpots that grow when they are not won. Some examples are Lotto 649 and Lotto Max. Since the jackpot size varies, then so does the expected value.
- If the jackpot of a lottery doubles, can it be assumed then that the expected value also doubles?
No, for two reasons. First, the jackpot contributes only a portion to the expected value of a given lottery. The smaller, secondary prizes also contribute, albeit not as much, to the expected value. And second, usually when a jackpot grows in size, then so does the sales for the given draw. As mentioned above, to calculate expected value, the probability of winning the jackpot is multiplied times the value of the jackpot. One must take into consideration the possibility of multiple winners. The greater the sales, the greater the possibility there will be multiple winners of the jackpot. For example, to calculate the expected value of a $24 million jackpot requires the following calculation. $24 million times the probability of a single winner, $12 million times the probability of two winners, $8 million times the probability of 3 winners, etc, until the number of winners is so large as to contribute almost nothing to the expected value. Fortunately, a formula has been created to make the series of calculations relatively simple.
- So, is it correct to assume that one should only buy tickets when the expected value is relatively large?
Yes, that is correct. In general, lotteries with a fixed prize structure have an expected value of around 50% or expressed another way - a $1 wager has an expected value of around $0.50. Lotteries with a prize structure that varies have expected values that range anywhere from 25% to as much as 100%. Now, it may come as a surprise that a lottery can have an expected value as low as 25%. Lotteries such as Lotto 649 and Lotto Max have very long odds for winning the jackpots. When their jackpots are at the starting values of $3 million for Lotto 649 and $10 million for Lotto Max, the resulting expected values are very low because these are relatively small jackpots given the odds of winning them. Remember that expected value is calculated by multiplying the value of the jackpot against the jackpot probability.
- Does it matter on what day of the week the draw is held.
Yes, in some cases. Ticket sales are higher for some days than other days. In the case of Lotto Max, the draws are always held on a Friday, so there is no comparison to be made. But in the case for Lotto 649, where draws are held on Saturday and Wednesday, it does make a difference. For the same size jackpot, sales are lower for a Wednesday draw than a Saturday draw. Lower sales results in a higher expected value. Also, a Wednesday draw on a week where the Monday was a holiday has even fewer sales than normal for the same size jackpot. Remember, there are two variables that effect the expected value - the size of the jackpot (larger is better) and tickets sales (lower is better).
- What have been the largest expected values to date?
The following are largest expected values to date, as of January 2000.
For the Lotto 649, under the new $2 per ticket format, the largest expected value was 96% and occurred on the January 2, 2008 draw. The jackpot was $37 million and just under 17 million tickets were sold for the draw.
For Super 7, the largest expected value was 80% and occurred on the May 5, 2006 draw. The jackpot was $35 million and ticket sales were 25.6 million. In second place was an expected value of 75% which occurred on the August 27, 2004 draw. The jackpot was $26,879,379 and ticket sales were $20.3 million. These last two examples illustrate the normal pattern. As jackpots group, so do ticket sales, but not in the same proportion. The $35 million jackpot was 30% larger than the $26.9 million jackpot but sales only increased by 26%.
- What is better, playing quick picks or picking your own numbers?
It is better to pick your own numbers rather than use quick picks, if and only if you know which numbers to avoid playing. If you do not know which numbers to avoid playing or you tend to pick number patterns when selecting numbers, then you are better off playing quick picks. Humans tend to pick number patterns when selecting lottery numbers even when trying to pick seemingly random numbers.
- Which tickets are more likely to win, quick pick tickets or tickets with player selected numbers?
There is no difference in probabilities between quick pick tickets and tickets with player selected numbers. All number combinations have identical probability of winning. This is also why, as stated in an earlier answer, that there is no value in attempting to predict lottery numbers. All tickets have the same probability of winning. Lottery draws are random.
- But I heard that quick pick tickets win more often. Therefore are not quick pick tickets better?
The reason quick pick tickets win more often is because most tickets are quick picks. Approximately 70% of all lottery tickets are quick picks and 70% of draws are won with quick picks. There is no difference in the probability of winning between quick pick tickets and tickets with player selected numbers.
- Why is it recommended to pick your own numbers?
One should pick one's own numbers when playing the lottery because some numbers and number combinations should be avoided. They should be avoided because they are popular with many players. Playing popular numbers and number combinations causes prizes to be split. In the case of the jackpot, the difference can be between a single ticket winning a $25 million jackpot and 10 tickets splitting the same jackpot. When playing in a group, multiple jackpot winners is something to avoid. Mario's Lottery Groups avoids playing popular numbers and number combinations to maximize the probability of not having to share the jackpot prize with other winning tickets. This strategy also works with the lower tier pari-mutuel prizes. For example, the match 4 prize of Lotto 649 is an average of $70 but varies between $38 and $100 depending if the winning numbers were played by many people. The match 5 prize of Lotto 649 is an average of $2,000 but varies between $800 and $3,000. Whenever Mario's Lottery Group won a match 5 or match 4 prize in Lotto 649, the prize was larger than average because popular numbers and number combinations were not played.
- How was it determined what numbers and number combinations are played more often?
By comparing the pari-mutuel prize payouts to the various winning numbers over the past 20 years worth of draws, it was determined what number combinations are played more often and which ones are played less often.
- How popular are some number combinations?
On the October 26, 2005, draw of Lotto 649, the jackpot reached a record $54 million. Some of the more popular number combinations were each played approximately 12,000 times across Canada. Had you played one of those combinations and they turned out to be the winning numbers then you would have shared the jackpot with 11,999 other players. The jackpot prize would have been approximately $4,500.
- What is a jackpot deflator rule?
A predetermined formula is used to calculate how much money from ticket sales is used to fund the jackpot. When a jackpot reaches a certain large level, some lottery companies decrease the amount of money used to fund the jackpot in order to decrease the growth of the jackpot. The decreased amount is used to fund the lower tier prizes. This rule is called the jackpot deflator rule. With the deflator rule, the same total amount of money is paid out in prizes, it is only distributed differently. Currently the Canadian Lotto 649 and the US Powerball lotteries use this type of rule.
- Why do lotteries use a jackpot deflator rule?
One the biggest concerns for lottery companies is jackpot fatigue. Jackpot fatigue is when lottery players get so used to large jackpots that they no longer are considered exciting and big news. Jackpot fatigue causes sales to not increase as dramatically as in the past when large jackpots occur. Lottery companies depend upon large jackpots to increase sales, attract new players and generate millions of dollars of free advertising through stories in the press. This is where the deflator rule comes in. Lottery companies want big jackpots but not so big that they become difficult to repeat on a regular basis. So when a jackpot reaches a certain large size, the lottery company begins to limit the growth of the jackpot using the deflator rule.
- Is the jackpot deflator rule a good idea for the players?
Yes, for two reasons. One, when more money is moved to lower tier prizes from the jackpot prize, the expected value increases. This is mainly due to the fact that the jackpot is not necessarily paid out on any given draw but the lower tier prizes are. And two, because the deflator rule is meant to prevent jackpot fatigue. Jackpot fatigue is bad for players because of what the lottery companies do to combat it.
- What do lottery companies do to combat jackpot fatigue?
The lottery companies create larger and larger jackpots. If players are no longer excited about $30 million jackpots, then $40 and $50 million jackpots are generated. Larger jackpots are created in one of two ways. One, creating longer odds causing the jackpot to roll several times before being won. Two, increasing the price of the tickets. Both options are bad for players. In the case of the US Mega Millions, the jackpot odds were increased to an astronomical 176 million to one in order to create large jackpots. For the Canadian Lotto 649, the ticket prize was increased to $2 in June 2004.
- Can Canadians buy US lottery tickets?
Yes, but they must be purchased from an authorized lottery retailer. Lottery tickets in the US are sold in much the same types of places as Canadian lottery outlets such as gas stations, convenience stores and lottery kiosks. When Mario's Lottery Groups offers a group play for US lotteries such as Mega Millions or Classic Lotto 47, a member of the group travels to the US and buys the tickets in person.
- How will large US lottery wins be claimed given the tax implications?
In the event a group wins a large sum of money in a US lottery, a single person will claim the money on behalf of the group. The cash option will be selected as opposed to the annuity option. The claimant will be Canadian and will declare sole ownership of the ticket. This claim will only be done to make the claim process easier. The claimant will act on behalf of the group and will hold the proceeds in trust for the group. Each person's share of the winnings will be allocated based on the shares as listed in the pre-draw email sent to all members.
Claiming US lottery winnings are complicated because of the tax implications. Since the claimant is Canadian, the lottery corporation will withhold 30% of the proceeds for Federal taxes. An additional percentage will also be withheld to cover the state tax. A copy of all documents produced in the claim process will be sent to all members of the group.
Any costs incurred to claim the ticket will be deducted from the winnings. The remaining proceeds (after costs and taxes have been deducted) will be divided among the members as per the shares owned by each member. For Canadian members of the group, there are no further tax implications. Their proceeds are free from any further taxes from either Canadian laws or US.
For US members it is more complicated. They are obligated by law to declare on their income tax return all lottery proceeds. I recommend they indicate on their return they already indirectly contributed 30% Federal tax and certain percentage state tax. The US Internal Revenue Service should take that into consideration. I have read some of the US tax documents governing lottery proceeds but I have not seen this scenario discussed. I cannot say with any level of certainty how the revenue service will deal with this situation.
For Canadian members, the claimant process is fairly straightforward. For US members, it is more complicated. Take this information into consideration when deciding to join a group purchasing US lottery tickets.
- Given the large US lottery jackpots, why are there not more US lottery group plays?
Yes, usually the US lotteries advertise much larger jackpots than Canadian lotteries. But these large jackpots are not as large as advertised. For one, they advertise the annuity value of the jackpot. That is, the payments are stretched over 20 to 30 years. A cash equivalent is offered up front if the player chooses the option. The cash value is usually around 50% of the advertised jackpot value and varies based on current interest rates. Second, the cash value of the jackpot is further reduced by a federal withholding tax of 30%. There is an additional state tax that varies by state but can be as high as 10%. And finally, the odds for some of the US lotteries are huge. For example the jackpot odds for Mega Millions are 1 in 175.7 million and the Powerball jackpot odds were recently increased to 1 in 195 million. Compare this to the Canadian Lotto 649 odds of 1 in 14 million.
- Can lottery tickets be legally bought online?
No. It is illegal to buy or sell lottery tickets online in Canada and the US. The only exception is some Canadian provinces allow residents of the province to buy tickets online.
There are several companies though, that sell lottery tickets online. They try to get around the law by claiming they are buying the tickets on your behalf as a form of "butler" service. Their service is a gray area and has not been challenged in court. It is not worth the risk. If you do happen to hit the jackpot, the US state or Canadian province in which the ticket was bought may decide not to honor the ticket. These ticket resellers do not appear to generate a lot of revenue. If the ticket they bought for you happens to hit the jackpot, it may represent a lifetime of profit for them and therefore they have a large incentive to run off with the ticket. If the above caveats are not enough to discourage use of their service, consider the fact they generally charge a fee equal to or greater than the ticket price. That is, every $1 ticket ends up costing the consumer $2 to $3. A markup of over 100%.