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Lucky charms, shooting stars and special numbers, all are performance poetry, mystical rituals that give the illusion of hope. Believing that a number is lucky is a way of asking fate for a favor. Because three out of four adults have at least one lucky charm or ceremonial offering (mine is picking up pennies with heads up), who are we to argue?

The number three has been considered the luckiest number for thousands of years in cultures and religions all over the world. "Of all the numbers in the infinite scale none has been more universally revered than three," writes Philip Waterman in The Story of Superstition. Christianity and the Trinity, China's third day of a new moon, Egypt's three-sided pyramids, the list goes on.

In betting action, we've seen players stand up from a football game, turn around three times to reverse his team's luck, then proceed to pulverize the house.

So, does the number three have any supernatural powers that work like a charm? Well, it does remind us of an old horse bettor's joke: "A guy wakes up at 3:33 a.m. one morning and takes the number three as an omen. He gets into a taxicab numbered 333. He goes to the track and bets $333 to "win" on the third horse in the third race... and true to form... the horse comes in third."

Our favorite benchmark of the providential luck has to be that of Vesna Vulovic. In 1972, Vulovic was a 22-year-old flight attendant on a Yugoslav Airlines DC-9 enroute from Stockholm to Belgrade when a bomb planted by Croatian terrorists exploded on board the plane at 33,330 feet. All 27 aboard perished except for Vulovic, who by chance was the only person in the tail section of the aircraft when it fell to earth from six miles above. The rear portion of the airliner stayed intact and took a life-saving bounce by hitting a snow-covered mountain slope at a favorable angle. Vulovic lived to tell about it.

We doubt any bettor can get luckier than that.