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Shocking lotto sequence not as rare as you might think

The recent winning numbers in Virginia's 'Bank a Million' lottery were 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18 and 19. Mathematicians say that's no more unusual than any other combo.

RICHMOND, Va. — A winning ticket in Virginia's "Bank a Million" lottery seemed surprising at first glance. But math experts say the sequence was really no more or less unusual, or lucky, than any other sequence of seven possible numbers. 

Though not read in order, Saturday's numbers were 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, and -- yes -- 19.   

"Tonight's first number is 16. The second number is 13. The third number is 14," the announcer read as she popped up the marked ping pong balls. 

It took a minute for most people to recognize the pattern. But Virginia Lottery spokesman John Hagerty said people were texting him pretty soon asking, "did you see that?"

"There was a 3.8 million chance of these numbers coming out on Saturday," Hagerty said. "And there's exactly the same chance, one in 3.8 million, of those same numbers coming out in Wednesday's drawing."

The lottery says if you win the top prize, you bank a million dollars, and the lottery pays the taxes.

Two people in Richmond did pick the right numbers, but because they split their tickets and selected other numbers as well, one ticket will pay $500,000 and the other will pay $250,000. One winner has already collected.

The new Paramount+ movie, "Jerry and Marge Go Large," is based on a real-life couple who cracked a couple of state lotteries, buying enough tickets that they were guaranteed to profit. But Bank a Million is not set up that way.

"It's compelling to think that because we found a pattern, it must be special in some way," said Catholic University math professor Prasad Senesi. "But in reality, it's not. It's no more special than any other random sequence of numbers." 

Senesi said the search for patterns may be the defining characteristic of human intelligence -- but it doesn't always make us lucky. 

"Of all the mathematicians I know that have a decent grasp of probability, none of them play the lottery," Senesi said. "And I don't think that's a coincidence." 

But that's unlikely to convince some people to stop playing.

Hagerty said the lottery generates about $1.6 million a day for the state's public schools. 

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