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Can you improve your lottery odds?

A guy making the talk-show circuit wants you to believe he can help you win the lottery. Don't bet on it.

By Stacy Johnson Jul 26, 2012 5:32PM

This post comes from Stacy Johnson at partner site Money Talks News.


Money Talks News on MSN MoneyReporters constantly get pitches from all manner of people and companies wanting to be the subject of a news story. They hire publicists who write press releases designed to convince people like us to tell their story and get them publicity -- and thus sell more books, apps or whatever they're hoping to market.


Over the last several months, I've received repeated pitches from a publicist promoting a guy who says he can increase your odds of winning the lottery. Here's part of a press release I got:

Richard (Lustig) will be playing Powerball Wednesday, and his chances to win are better than most. Why? Lustig has developed a method for increasing your chances of winning the lottery that has given him seven lottery game grand prizes and dozens of smaller wins, netting millions in winnings. Richard is outspoken that his method really works, and that "luck has nothing to do with it." 

Really? Check out the video below for what resulted when I talked to Richard Lustig and took his theories to a statistics professor.

I've been doing consumer news for more than 20 years, so silly stuff like systems to increase your odds of picking random numbers is nothing new. What's unusual about this story, however, is that this guy isn't promoting his product with a late-night infomercial. He's sending press releases like the one above to real journalists. Even stranger: They're biting.


In a story called "How one man became a serial lottery winner," ABC News has both print and video about Lustig. They say things like:

After developing the method over the years and selling thousands of copies of his report, Lustig decided to write a 40-page book explaining his formula. The game of chance, or what some call luck, is what Lustig addresses in his book currently ranked No. 3 on Amazon's self-help book list.

Image: Lottery Tickets (© Scott Speakes/Corbis/Corbis)But did anyone in this network news organization think to read the book or question Lustig's "formula"? Did they even ask him about the method he "developed over the years"? While saying in the first paragraph that Lustig has "won the grand prize seven times," they don't reveal the only statistic that would make that meaningful: how much money he spent playing.


The number of times anyone wins anything is irrelevant unless you also know the amount they've lost. Since Lustig didn't say and ABC didn't ask, this story is a waste of cyber ink.


In "Want to win the lottery? This guy has a system," CNBC hops on the bandwagon:

Lustig didn't detail much of his system to CNBC -- that's in his book -- but he did give a few tips for those who want to rely on more than a little bit of luck: Avoid Quick-Pick lottery cards where the numbers are pre-selected. Buy at least 10 tickets. Play in lottery pools ....

So here's another news network that served up major publicity to a guy claiming to have a system to win the lottery without knowing what his "system" is, or even reading his book. I read the free copy furnished by his publicist -- it takes less than 45 minutes. Why didn't they?


In addition, they print tips like, "avoid Quick-Pick lottery cards" without stopping to think. Whether you pick a number or a machine does, the odds are the same. In lotteries like PowerBall, those odds are up to 1 in 176 million. Suggesting otherwise is nonsense.


The 'secrets' revealed

As I said in the video, Lustig's brochure-sized book does offer advice that makes sense. For example: Retain losing lottery tickets to offset potentially taxable wins. This is true in all forms of gambling. You can't deduct losses, but you can use losses to offset gains, thus reducing your tax liability in the unlikely event you win more than you lose in a given year.


The other sensible thing Lustig's book suggests is about second-chance drawings. Some lottery games allow you to send in losing tickets as entries for drawings for trips and other prizes. He suggests you do so.


But when it comes to helping you pick random numbers, his logic isn't logical.


Lustig's "system" includes always playing the same numbers, and to stop playing them if they win, because the same numbers never win twice. That's pretty much it -- and it's wrong. The odds of any set of random numbers coming up again are the same every time. That's why they call them random.


Interesting aside: The statistics professor we interviewed about Lustig's claims did have a suggestion for playing games like Powerball: Select numbers higher than 31. While that won't increase your odds of winning -- nothing will -- at least if you do win, you're less likely to split the pot. That's because so many people play their birthdays.


What you didn't see in the video above was the conclusion of my brief interview with Lustig, which basically devolved into a hostile exchange. As I was trying to explain that his system for picking winning lottery numbers makes no mathematical sense, he shot back with, "What do you think I am, an idiot?"

I responded, "You're no idiot, Richard. You're making money selling a $40 book with nonsensical advice. It's the people who buy it that are idiots."


In retrospect, however, there's one group of people who are more foolish -- those in the news business offering legitimacy to people like him while at the same time calling themselves journalists.


More from Money Talks News and MSN Money:


Jul 26, 2012 10:38PM
Thirteen of these comments are spam. C'mon MSN, do your job, uphold your anti-spam policy and DELETE their profiles. Keep the spammers off of these pages.
Jul 27, 2012 12:30PM
This article will go over like a wet blanket to the majority of our nation, the stupids.  It uses reason and logic. And dare I say... math.  This simply won't do.  The groaning has already started. LOL!

If you think you bought a book, software program, or figured a strategy to win the lottery?
You're an idiot.

Jul 26, 2012 10:58PM
Poor reporting. 

First question: How much did Lustig win overall? ($10,000? or $1,000,000 dollars?)

Second question: How much did he spend to win it? ($100? or $980,000?)

Third question: How long did it take? (Thirty days? Or thirty years?)

Vague, evasive and uninformative piece.

Jul 27, 2012 7:49AM

I really like all of the "Secret Systems / Programs" that are suposed to make you money in the stock market,

real estate market, lottery, and goverment grants, etc.


If you had a secret system/program that could make you wealthy would you tell anyone about it? Answer: NO.


The only people making money are these frauds with these half baked ideas.


So, folks the most common sense idea is work and live within your means and stay away from the "Get Rich"

scemes and using credit cards for purchases.


That is my free advise. Cheers.

Jul 26, 2012 9:55PM
For me the state operated lottery is entertainment. When I play I never expect to win. It is well worth the dollar or two that I blow on it a few times each week. So leave me alone and get out of my face about this.
Jul 27, 2012 10:49AM
Finally, some truth in refreshing!
Jul 27, 2012 8:24AM

My favorite bumper sticker I've ever seen....


"The lottery is a tax for people who are REALLY bad @ math"


Your odds of being struck by lightning are 1 in 576000.  Odds of winning the lottery (see above) 1 in 176 million.  So when was the last time you, or someone you knew, were struck by lightning? 


Keep your money in your wallets folks - or at least don't buy a lottery ticket - you're just being taxed.

Jul 27, 2012 11:48AM
I responded, "You're no idiot, Richard. You're making money selling a $40 book with nonsensical advice. It's the people who buy it that are idiots."

Wow, MSN Money might actally be saner than I thought.

Richard Lustig -- if that's his real name -- is probably also making bank as a shill for Powerball.

Step right up and buy his book, suckers.
Jul 26, 2012 9:50PM
Regardless of the odds one has to play to win and I disagree with Gentleman with Phd in Statistics to spend money some where else. I am not a Phd but graduated with BBA in Statistics my suggestion will be to play in moderation otherwise you will never WIN.
Jul 27, 2012 10:34AM
Thank you for pointing out the irresponsibility of the media, lending legitmacy  to businesses and people who rip off the public.  THANK you for calling them out, it's about time!!!
Jul 27, 2012 10:52AM
Honestly this is not news.  The scam of selling you a book to promise better odds in playing the lottery is older than the Internet itself and this guy isn't the only such author.  I first read about this idea in the early 1990s, and I'm sure it's been around even earlier than that.

Certainly it's a fine way to make a living, if you don't mind scamming other people out of their hard earned money.

Jul 27, 2012 4:12PM
You can improve your odds of not losing  . Don't buy a ticket
Jul 27, 2012 1:05AM

No one can change your luck, the only one that is  making money is this guy will convince you that he can.

So like a very famous circus icon stated, there is a sucker born every minute.

Jul 26, 2012 11:02PM
I see this reporter bit as well.  But he did a better job at exposing this phoney  than his rivals.. I think.  Still...he reported on a nonsensical story, the exact thing that he's ragging on his fellow colleagues for....does the iron pot call the iron kettle "black" much?  You decide....

I do have one tidbit to share.  I live in a state where you can play free game online at the state lottery's website.  I play those games pretty often and have from time to time scored a high score on those games.  Now, scoring a high score entitles you to a prize, which is a coupon mailed to you for 5 free tickets to a game where the top prize is $200,000. 

I won this free coupon on 2 different occasions.  Each time, I took the ticket in and chose the "quick pick" option, and BOTH times, I won ...not the grand prize, but the 2nd biggest prize which is $2,000.   So for my free time, Quick Picks ARE the way to go!  :)   So, I won $4000 total without spending one cent on the lottery....Can HE say that?  I doubt it! 
Jul 27, 2012 11:57AM

This guy found the way to win!

Sell the (foolish) people what they want to hear.

...wish me luck on my tickets.

sounds like another suze orman - writing a book on how to increase ones wealth, when their own wealth was actually created by their books and not by the advice in them.
Jul 27, 2012 7:23AM
I have improved my lottery odds in a HUGE way.....I quit playing.  Wise up just ain't gonna win....ever.
Only one way to improve your chances of any game winning is to simply get more tickets.
Jul 27, 2012 5:46AM
There are gret odds of writing a book and making money even if hat you write makes no sense. All you need to do is pick the poper topic and get an interesting title. Write about winning money, makng money with little or no effort, almost anything about a celebrity or quasi-celebrity, doomsday (or why doomsday won't happen), etc and a lot of people will scoop it up. You don't need a best-seller to make some reasonble cash. There are a lot of foolish people who drove the internet bubble, housing bubble, day trading trend, beanie babies craze, etc and now that people are even more deperate with the poor economy even more are looking for a big-score or major diversion. Bet on a fool to be foolish and you will almost always win.
Jul 27, 2012 10:01AM

I thought the point of playing lotteries was that you wanted to lose.  Why else would anyone play the single worst deal the "house" gives anyone anywhere?


Government run lotteries are a tax on the ignorant and the desperate.  Shame.

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