For 13 years, a red ball with the number "20" printed on it has been whirling around with its numerical counterparts in an enclosed Powerball kettle waiting to potentially make someone a millionaire.
That No. 20 red ball has made its way out of the kettle 49 times, the most of any of the numbered balls. No. 20 also is the second most common number on the five white balls that are selected in each Powerball drawing as well, behind 26 and ahead of 32, 16 and 42, a Daily Herald analysis of the numbers shows.
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As common as they are, those six balls have never appeared together in the 1,369 drawings held each Wednesday and Saturday since the modern age of Powerball began Nov. 5, 1997.
While some gamblers may see that information as an edge, mathematicians and oddsmakers say it's all just luck.
"The numbers and the pingpong balls have no memory," said Jeff Bergen, a mathematics professor at DePaul University. "So whether a given number has come up once or twice or 10 times or never, it is no more or less likely to come up today than any other number."
Powerball is just one of dozens of Illinois lottery options that will make up a slew of last-minute stocking stuffers or greeting card inserts next week.
"The fourth quarter makes up a third of our annual sales," said Tracy Owens, an Illinois Lottery spokesman. "Last year's fourth quarter we saw a 6 percent increase in sales over the same period the prior year."
Mount Prospect lottery player Dale Dul said he started playing popular numbers several years ago when he heard about which ones were being drawn most frequently, but stopped when they didn't win and started letting the computer pick again.
"I'd be interested to know which ones they are and I might play them," he said Friday after purchasing a ticket with computer-selected numbers. "Since they haven't come all together before, it might mean they're due when you look at it that way."
The current estimated jackpot for Saturday's drawing is up to $25 million.
All the Powerball numbers show up enough in the drawings that there aren't any statistical anomalies, Bergen said. The No. 25 white ball has only been selected 111 times in 13 years, compared to the most common No. 26 being picked 151 times.
"Having a ball appear only 111 times is somewhat surprising, but not a big deal," Bergen said.
While playing the most common numbers is one strategy, Tony Sinisi, the odds director at Las Vegas Sports Consultants, said some gamblers may go another direction and play the numbers that come up less frequently.
"There are very successful bettors that bet against the popular because the thinking is the public is going to be wrong," he said.
Bergen suggested another possible strategy.
Pick numbers that fewer players pick, he said. "Although I don't know how one would acquire data regarding which numbers are unpopular choices for lottery players. But if you do win, it would be less likely that other players have chosen the same numbers as you ... and you would be less likely to share the prize with other players."
Powerball officials keeps records of all winning combinations on the game's website and they also list the frequency that the balls appear in drawings as numbered balls have been added and subtracted over the years, but they don't keep a list of what numbers are most commonly selected by players.
Sinisi had only one piece of advice for Powerball players.
"For sanity purposes I would stick with the same numbers every time, just in case it does hit."