Is the “Quick Pick” Method Really Random?

Monday November 5, 2018 05:06 am

The Lottery Lab Staff

Almost every lottery offers a “Quick Pick” option where the ticket kiosk selects your numbers for you.  Unlike the lottery which is physically randomized, the Quick Pick is actually a computer program coded by humans. This raises the potential that the Quick Pick has a pattern or non-random behaviors. These computer programs are technically “pseudo-random” because they are programmed to choose numbers systematically method in a sequence that appears random

 

Just like any computer program, the output is simply a matter of the inputs. For a pseudo-random number generator, the computer might use the computer’s clock time (with precision to a millisecond) at the moment the ticket was purchased as input to the program. This number, often referred to as the program’s “seed” starts the . The “seed” can be generated using alternative phenomena such as the small variations in the electrical power to the computer. The key feature of the “seed” is that it is reasonably unpredictable. To make the output of the pseudo-random number generator demonstrate the desired behavior, additional calculations are performed on the seed.

 

Just like the lotteries themselves, the behavior of these computer programs can be tested but doing so is quite difficult. It would involve either buying a large number of “Quick Pick” tickets or collecting information from a large number of people who played by “Quick Pick” method. Of course, no lottery commission is going to divulge the model that they use to produce Quick Pick numbers, but lottery operators have legitimate reasons for their Quick Pick to be biased. First, players who pick their own numbers are known to be biased towards a narrow set of all possible combinations. Secondly, lottery sales tend to spike when jackpots become unusually large. Thus, it may not be in the interest of the lottery commissions to recommend numbers that players are unlikely to pick for themselves. On the other hand, for lotteries which primarily payout fixed prizes (such as Pick3 games), it is in the lottery commission’s interest to ensure that selected numbers are evenly spread across the field of possible combinations.

 

As we look at the number of Powerball tickets sold and the percentage of the possible combinations covered by those tickets, it is difficult to determine if the Quick Pick is generating random numbers with equal probability without any bias. In conclusion, pseudo-random number generators can be programmed to have almost any pattern or behavior. We need to do more digging to reveal the pattern underlying Quick Pick options!