The number of people who play the National Lottery has fallen dramatically. In the last financial year, ticket sales fell £619 million to an eight-year low of just over £4 billion. That's a drop of 15%. Players are being put off by higher prices and fewer wins - so how can you improve your lottery strategies?
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Camelot blames the drop in sales on a "three very long and statistically unexpected rollover series in quick succession at the beginning of last year." Players were already reeling from changes in 2015, which saw the number of balls increase from 49 to 59 - which meant the chance of winning fell from one in 14 million to one in 45 million. This, of course, came after a price increase at the end of 2013, which saw the entry price double to £2.
It's easy to see why people would be put off by higher prices, a statistically lower chance of winning, and then a long stretch when nobody won at all.
EuroMillions has fared a bit better. It hiked prices in September last year, with the price increasing from £2 to £2.50. At the same time, Lottery bosses introduced an extra number, which decreased the odds of winning the jackpot. However, it simultaneously promised bigger prizes and double the number of UK millionaires, which has increased the popularity of the game.
Camelot says it expects fewer people to play this year too - especially given the squeeze on people's disposable income, and the growth of other lottery alternatives. It is reviewing its games at the moment, and is keen to make the National Lottery draw more attractive, so we can hope that we get change for the better in the next six months.
What can you do?
If you play the lottery because it supports good causes (£1.6 billion in the last financial year), then you won't particularly mind the increased prices and reduced chances of winning. Investment by the Lottery has made an astonishing difference to many people's lives - not least the Olympic hopefuls funded by the game, and that may be enough for you.
If, however, you play to win, it's worth considering what you can to give you a better outcome - whether that's more chance of winning, a bigger jackpot, or a risk-free option. There are five lottery strategies worth considering.
1. Choose when to play
The National Lottery rule changes mean that there are more rollovers. To stop this going on forever, the company also introduced a rule that means whenever the jackpot goes over £22 million, the game will change so that if nobody correctly predicts all six numbers, the prize will be shared by anyone who guesses five numbers and the bonus ball.
It slashes your odds from one in 45 million to one in 7.5 million - although your chances of sharing the jackpot are increased. This has happened before - most recently at the end of May - so it's worth watching out for and consider playing when the odds are better.
2. Look for a lottery where someone wins more often
Now the National Lottery rules have changed, there are more rollovers. In fact in a recent study by Jackpot.com, looked at 23 international lotteries and discovered that 11 of them paid out more frequently than the National Lottery.
Those looking to enter lotteries less likely to rollover every week could consider the Australian Saturday Lotto. This international lottery had only one rollover and 52 wins (98%) during 2016. EuroMillions, in comparison, has a 30% jackpot win rate – 24 wins and 81 rollovers.
3. Look for the massive jackpots
EuroMillions has an average winning jackpot of £44,413,790, which is fairly seismically life-changing. The biggest ever EuroMillions jackpot won in the UK was an unimaginably enormous £161 million.
However, it's only the fourth biggest jackpot in the world. It is beaten by around £2 million by the EuroJackpot. It is outstripped by more than 100% by the US MegaMillions. And top of the pile altogether is the US Powerball, with an average winning jackpot of more than £325.6 million.
If you fancy a flutter on a lottery elsewhere in the world, you can bet on the outcome. There are a few companies offering this, and structure the bets to pay out the same sums as the lottery in question. You pick your numbers just as you would in order to play the game, and then bet on the chances of them winning.
4. Opt for Premium Bonds instead
The odds on Premium Bonds have fallen with interest rates, so your chances of winning have dwindled somewhat. The average return has fallen from 1.25% to 1.15%, which in reality that means that out of everyone with £1,000 of Premium Bonds, two thirds of them would have won nothing at all last year.
However, this is the only form of gambling in the UK in which you get your stake back, so while you could earn more interest elsewhere, and have a better chance of a jackpot on the National Lottery, you at least get your money back.
Of course your stake will be eroded by inflation, but if you were to put a lump sum into Premium Bonds it will be included in every draw forever - until you take your money back. That has to be a better option than playing the lottery every week and never winning a big prize.
5. Play the Free Postcode Lottery
This was actually set up as the antidote to lotteries, and does what it promises. You sign up with your postcode, and you pay nothing at all. Every day there are a number of winning postcodes, selected to win anything from £15 to £1,500.
The prizes are paid for by advertisers, so you will need to go back to the site every day to check if you are a winner. This is your only cost, however, and is your chance to win a lottery that you never have to pay for.