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Archive for July, 2007

Long odds

Posted by bitguru on July 30, 2007

Subway restaurants have a Scrabble promotion going on. It is similar to McDonald’s Monopoly promotion in that some game pieces are instant winners (usually for food items) and some must be collected into sets to be redeemed for more substantial prizes. To win a grand prize in the Scrabble promotion, one must form the word subway by collecting six individual letters: S, U, B, W, A, and Y.

What caught my eye is the odds. According to the official rules the odds of claiming a grand prize are about 2.2 billion to one. Up to 10 grand prizes will be awarded, they say, but at those odds I don’t see how. The contest is limited to legal U.S. residents, of which there are only about 300 million. So if each legal resident plays the game 7 times we would expect only one winner, right?

Also, the grand prize is only $100,000. The odds of winning MegaMillions or Powerball lottery jackpot are a dozen times better (at 176 or 146 million to one) yet the prize values greatly exceed $100,000. (A lottery ticket is cheaper than a large Subway beverage, too, though it admittedly lacks quenching value.)

The odds of winning the Monopoly grand prize are 20 times longer at 41 billion to one, but at least the prize is $5 million (paid over 19 years, so closer to $3 million cash value). $100,000 is Monopoly’s fourth-largest prize, at 700 million to one odds. On the other hand, the odds of winning food prizes are 1 in 7 for Monopoly, versus 1 in 2 for Scrabble.

Perhaps McDonald’s and Subway calculate their odds differently. McDonald’s official rules say, “the odds of winning Collect & Win prizes are based upon obtaining the complete Winning Combination,” which is vague. Subway doesn’t say anything at all, which is even more vague.

If I recall correctly—and possibly I don’t—in previous years the Monopoly official rules listed the odds of obtaining the single rare piece in each set. I find that more informative, though I suppose it could be assailed as underestimating the true odds. In the Scrabble promotion, it’s unclear if there is a single rare piece in each set.


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