Lotto 649 is a phrase commonly used to refer to any lottery which requires a player to select six main numbers from the range 1 to 49. Popular 649 (sometimes written as 6/49) lotto games include the UK National Lottery, the Lotto 649 game in Canada and the Loto game in France.
Exactly why the 6 from 49 formula is so common is difficult to establish. Some say that 6/49 games make the odds of winning small enough to generate worthy jackpots without making them so small that players get tired of only a few people winning each year. Others say that the 649 basis is just as much based on tradition than on any statistical consideration.
Regardless of why so many lottery games take this format, it is one that is extremely popular with the general public. The odds of matching all 6 main numbers from a possible 49, and thereby winning the jackpot, are 1 in 13,983,816. Most 6/49 games also draw a bonus ball after the main numbers and pay a second prize to those matching this and only five of the main numbers. The odds of doing this are 1 in 2,330,636. Where prizes are also paid for matching five, four and three main numbers only, the overall odds of winning any prize in a 6 from 49 game are 1 in 54.
It is important to avoid assuming that all 6/49 games are identical in terms of the prizes they offer and the overall odds of winning. Some games, like the UK Lotto, pay a prize to players matching three main numbers. Others, like the French Loto, pay a prize to players matching two main numbers and the bonus ball. Payout structures and prize levels therefore vary from game to game, and the only thing they are sure to have in common is the number or number of balls to be selected by the player (6) and the number of balls used (49).
Other lottery formats can be found around the world, and it could well be that one of these will eventually surpass the Lotto 649 approach in popularity. That said, the 6 from 49 game has been around for a long time and is very unlikely to disappear from the lottery gaming scene altogether.
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