Years ago, I made a conscious decision I would never buy a lottery ticket.
It might have been when I was studying probability at university, although, I had never bought one before then either.
And I never have since.
It basically comes down to one thing. I am not a gambler and the odds of winning are so astronomically low as to be effectively zero.
Take the recent $20 million win by a couple from Telkwa in the Lotto Max.
The lottery claims you have a one in 33 million chance of winning with a $5 ticket. That’s based on 85 million possible combinations of the seven numbers needed to win the jackpot and the fact you get three such combinations per ticket, one you pick yourself and two that are randomly generated.
Most people get that it’s a long shot at best, but what has intrigued me over the years has been how people simply do not understand probability.
Humans have a really hard time fathoming huge numbers so we unconsciously extrapolate to things we can understand.
For example, we intuitively feel like the more often we play, the better our chances of winning.
Technically, this is probably true.
On any given flip of a coin, for example, your chances of it landing on heads is one in two, or 50 per cent. Because any subsequent flip is completely independent of the previous one, the probability of heads coming up is still 50 per cent.
However, if we flip the coin twice, the odds of getting heads increases. In this scenario there are four possible outcomes: two heads; two tails; one head, one tail; or one tail, one head. When you do the math, the probably of getting at least one head in two tosses becomes 75 per cent. Three flips yields a probability of 87.5 per cent.
Same applies to flipping three coins at the same time.
So intuitively, playing the same numbers every week or playing more than one set of numbers for a particular draw increases your odds of winning.
When you start with a probability of one in 33 million, however, whether you play the same numbers every week for 30 years, or buy 100 tickets for a particular draw, the chance of winning is still effectively zero.
Some local people were discouraged by the recent win in Telkwa.
They shouldn’t be, because the probability it will happen again here is exactly the same as the probability it will happen in Vancouver or Smith’s Falls, Ontario.
That is because the odds are always astronomically against everyone. In the end the house always wins.
Personally, I can think of only one good reason to play. To actively support the programs all the revenue it generates supports.
Over time, the vast majority of people lose money playing the lottery, so it is, in essence, a voluntary tax.
Only 48 per cent of lottery revenue goes into the prize pool. In 2017/2018, the B.C. Lottery Corporation made $1.4 billion from its 52 per cent share. Of that, $9.8 went to the federal government, $964 million was transferred to the Province; $147 million was deposited into a special health care account, $140 million was granted to charitable and community organizations, and $102 million was distributed to local governments that host gaming facilities.
The rest went into enforcement, support for horse racing, local economic development and responsible gambling initiatives.
People play the lottery for all kinds of reasons.
The hope of winning life-changing money is not a good one, but to those who play, thanks for supporting important government services and social programs.