Maybe its because lots of Marylanders have zip codes that begin with 21, or like to play "21" in Atlantic City or just think 21 was a very good year.
Whatever the reason, lots of people bet on some combination of 2121, the winning number in the Maryland Lottery's Pick-4 game, on Monday. So many, in fact, that the lottery agency paid out $2,393,500 in prizes but took in only $409,877 in Pick-4 ticket sales, said Theresa Gutierrez, a spokeswoman for the Maryland State Lottery.
Of more than 600,000 Pick-4 tickets sold Monday, almost 4,000
were winners. The best payoff -- $5,000 -- came on a $1 bet on 2121, called a "straight" bet. The lowest payoff -- $400 -- came on a 50-cent bet for what is called a "six-way box," any combination of two 1s and two 2s -- 1122, 2112, 2121, 1221, 1212, 2211.
It was the 219th time that Pick-4 players have "broken the bank," winning more money than the state collected on the game, since it was launched in April 1983.
"Maryland Lottery players continue to win big," declared Carroll H. Hynson Jr., a deputy director of the agency.
One out of 158 tickets was a winner Monday. Yet the odds of winning ranged between 1 in 10,000 for hitting all four numbers in sequence to 1 in 1,666.67 for the six-way box.
That so many people chose a winning combination of the same four digits may seem puzzling.
But John C. Wierman, chairman of the mathematics department at the Johns Hopkins University, said there is no mystery.
"Presumably, people have their favorite number and play these numbers regularly, either 2121 or all 7s or something like that," he said. "It's a random phenomenon as to when it [the number] comes up. . . . But eventually it's going to come up."
On most days, the Maryland State Lottery wins big, not the people who regularly play 2121 or any other number. That's why the state is in the lottery business. But on those rare days when a well-liked number such as 2121, or 0707, or 1234 hits, "There's a big splash and everyone makes out," Dr. Wierman said.
In fact, 2121 appears to be one of the favorites for Pick-4 players. The last time the number was drawn, Jan. 25 of this year, 5,151 players won $2,922,400 -- and again broke the bank, Ms. Gutierrez said.
The most popular four-digit number of all is 1234, she noted. Of course, the people who played that combination Monday lost.
Why are some numbers so appealing? Scientifically, one number is just as much of a long shot as any other. But people like to play familiar numbers -- drawn from addresses, birthdays, phone numbers, the ages of friends and family -- either because they think the numbers are lucky or because familiar numbers are the ones that come to mind.
Ms. Gutierrez said Pick-3 and Pick-4 players also seem to favor low digits and pairs such as 11 and 22.