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Luck of the draw: Can some regions be luckier than others?

Thane Burnett (QMI Agency)

By Thane Burnett, QMI Agency

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Against the odds, Shelley Lelievre knows what luck feels like.

Though it's so far slipped through her fingers.

She works at Wayne's Beauty Salon, in the Cape Breton fishing village of Cheticamp, N.S. The community is known for hooked rugs and as a Francophone enclave.

But to Shelley, and others along the Cabot Trail, the entire region should also be known for lotto luck.

The 43-year-old hairdresser counts three lottery millionaires among clients, including Gaye Lillington, who along with husband Ray, won $3.2 last May.

"All are from up north — a tiny dot on the map," Shelley said.

"What are the odds?" she wondered.

And so did we.

Across Canada, there are legends of lucky stores, families, towns or even provinces.

So QMI Agency collected statistics for Lotto 6/49 payouts for last year and 2013, of at least a million dollars. The kind of damn-we're-rich amounts people daydream about.

And cursory math would show perhaps Shelley's right. Nova Scotia leads other provinces per-capita in cashing in big, with Alberta following behind.

So could there be corners of the country where you're more likely to win?

"I think it was fate and faith — a higher power helping," said 61-year-old Gaye Lillington, one of Shelley's millionaire customers.

Now building a new house, with her husband getting the truck he wanted — a European river cruise to come — Gaye always thought tickets were a waste of money.

But Raymond had faith.

Locals come up to hug them, perhaps in part hoping the now-legendary Cape Breton lotto luck rubs off.

A hope that's made more needful as the region suffers through high unemployment.

Joanne and Duane Thompson understand such hope.

Last November, the Lethbridge, Alta., couple won $45.6 million — the third largest in Lotto 6/49's history.

Before that, they were looking at a retirement with little savings. In fact, Duane had gone on a vacation from his mechanics job, only to be told he had been laid off when he returned.

Joanna cleaned houses for families who were better off — including a financial adviser who now works for them.

Things were so tight they discussed stopping buying lottery tickets. They decided to continue until the end of the year.

Then they won. Really won.

They haven't splurged — a nice but not extravagant house and the diamond ring Duane always promised Joanne.

He got a Camaro.

"Retirement is a non-issue," Duane acknowledged.

And yes, they see a divine hand at play, offering a blessed life near kids and grandchildren.

"It seems to have come down to destiny," Duane said.

"The way it worked out (for us) in kind of unbelievable."

In fact, people of Lethbridge say there's a history of remarkable lottery luck in their city.

Is prosperity then choosy?

Albert Lannon isn't convinced.

The 58-yeart-old Newfoundlander won $1.68 million last August.

His big buy has been a new backhoe to replace his 1979 John Deere plow he uses to clear the snow, that'll soon arrive again.

He remembers investing in the original Olympic Lottery, before that old tractor rolled off the assembly line.

And Albert hasn't missed many lotteries since.

It's all in the odds, he said — a slowly filling cup of quick-pick probabilities and chance amplified by his family members buying over generations.

"Luck? I think my numbers just came up."

Jeffrey Rosenthal agrees. It's all in those numbers.

A professor in the University of Toronto's Department of Statistics and author of Struck by Lightning: The Curious World of Probabilities, he helped expose an Ontario lottery retailer fraud scandal in 2006 — detective work that hinged on him figuring the odds of store owners winning as much as they did.

Rosenthal reviewed the Lotto 649 numbers we collected, while we asked whether players in one province — per capita — could win over those in another?

But everything can be explained by math, he's concluded, and even a few big recent wins in Nova Scotia and Alberta are within expectations.

"The only 'slight' thing that you can do with lottery tickets is to try to choose unusual numbers (not birthdays, etc.) so if you do win you are less likely to have to share the jackpot with someone else," he said. "But as for the probability of winning — or sharing — the jackpot, no matter what numbers you pick or when you play, it is always that same one chance in 14 million.

"Actually, one chance in 13,983,816. You just can't change it. I stand by that."

In fact, he said future wins aren't impacted by past wins — so a payout in Cape Breton, Lethbridge or Toronto this week doesn't weigh for or against their chances next time.

"Anyone can get lucky, but there is just no way for a person or region to influence the lottery draws to 'force' themselves to win more often."

And it's that one invisible part of the equation — lottery's elusive 'L' word — that keeps legend and hope alive.

Cape Breton hairdresser Shelley has asked a fortune teller to predict if she'll be touched by the area's lotto luck.

The woman told her she didn't want Shelley's husband racing off to spend all their money on tickets.

"She never said yes — but she did say we'd always have enough."

SELLING THE DREAM

Lotteries are often a losing gamble — and you can bet on that.

But against the opinions of researchers, academics and experts, Richard Lustig sells what he believes is a recipe for winning — or at least one to increase your odds.

The Florida talent scout has racked up seven grand prize lottery wins, which he says proves there are ways to jump the line of chance.

Among the tips he freely offers up are to pick your own numbers, rather than have the quick pick machine do it, start researching what numbers have come up before and keep playing the same sets of numbers.

But for the actual nuts-and-bolts how-to details, you'd need to buy his book, Learn How to Increase Your Chances of Winning the Lottery.

It's among scores of do-it-yourself type manuals — and now even apps — that promise increased lottery odds.

A 63-year-old Florida native, Lustig says he used to keep his formula on nine photo-copied sheets, to sell to those who recognized him on the street and wanted to know his secret.

His son then suggested he write a book.

"I used to think I was just a lucky guy — when I won my fourth, the light went off," he notes, believing lotteries aren't so random and players who do their homework to perform better than the masses.

Once living in a home where the roof leaked and he could hardly pay the hospital bills after his son was born, he says his method has now bought him Jaguars, cruises and a house that doesn't leak.

But nothing is assured, he knows.

If his method was fool-proof: "I'd be multi-billionaire.

"I've just figured out a way to increase my chances."

And his question to his skeptics: "How many lotteries have you won?"

Poll

What would you do first if you won the lottery?


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