Posted on Wed, Oct. 19, 2005

Quick, pick a winner
A record Powerball drawing is hours away. How will you choose your numbers?

Pioneer Press

There's nothing random about Jerry Knoll's number picks — 2, 4, 6, 8, 10 and 12. He dreamt of them Monday night.

Cora Cailang will carry on a practice of her recently deceased mom — using family members' birthdates.

Forget the fact that you have a better chance of being struck by lightning or seeing a UFO than winning the big bundle in tonight's record $340 million Powerball drawing.

At this point, the real questions are: Should you choose your own numbers or let the computer pick them for you? And if you pick your own, how should you go about it?

Jerry Knoll of St. Paul banks on his subconscious. He said his sure-thing winning numbers appeared to him in a dream Monday night.

"Two, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12," Knoll said while tossing his money down at Charlie's in Wells Fargo Place on East Seventh Street. "Kinda stuck in my mind for some reason."

With the odds of hitting all six numbers at 1 in 146 million, how you pick your numbers doesn't affect your odds.

"It doesn't matter, because Powerball is truly random," said Clint Harris, director of the Minnesota State Lottery.

But choosing numbers yourself could affect your bottom line, said Douglas Arnold, director of the Institute for Mathematics and its Applications at the University of Minnesota.

"It's true that the odds of winning aren't going to change no matter what you do," Arnold said. "But people tend to pick certain numbers more than others. So if you win, you're more likely to wind up having to share the prize with somebody else if you chose your own numbers."

Today's Powerball jackpot climbed into the stratosphere after 20 straight drawings in which no one won the grand prize. Twenty-seven states offer Powerball, along with the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The biggest lottery jackpot in U.S. history is $363 million, won by two ticketholders in Illinois and Michigan in 2000.

During a lottery frenzy like the one going on today, for a jackpot second only to the one split in 2000, officials say more than 90 percent of ticket purchases are "quick picks," the term used to describe tickets with numbers generated at random by the lottery's computer system.

"It's faster when you're standing in line and buying more than one ticket," Harris said.

That assessment appeared to be true Tuesday as noontime lines formed at convenience stores in downtown St. Paul. A Powerball ticket sells for $1, but many people were buying $5 or $10 worth of tickets Tuesday. Most were taking the quick picks.

But Barbara Cannon of St. Paul chooses her own. Cannon dropped by Charlie's so often to buy lottery tickets that owner Charlie Rose hired her as a clerk. Charlie's is the top lottery sales outlet in downtown St. Paul.

Cannon said she's been selecting numbers she found in a fortune cookie. When she was told that a lot of fortune cookies have the same numbers and that she might have to share her jackpot, Cannon laughed.

"That's all right — I'm not greedy," she said.

Cora Cailang of West St. Paul said her mother, who died Sept. 23, always chose lottery numbers with the birthdates of her grandchildren.

"Now I'm picking my mother's birthday and the date she died," Cailang said. "And some grandchildren birthdays, too."

Of those who select their own numbers, the vast majority chooses birthdates, according to lottery officials.

"If you win something, you feel better because it's your kid's birthday," Harris said. "People should have fun with this — it's the only reason to play — so if they want to choose some method, why not?"

David Hawley can be reached at or 651-228-5257. This article contains information from the Associated Press.

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