bitguru blog

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Lottery again

Posted by bitguru on August 28, 2007

The multi-state lotteries are in the news again. On Saturday an Indiana Powerball ticket won the $314 million jackpot ($142 million cash value). There is a $250 million ($146 cash value) Mega Millions drawing tonight.

But the reason I’m writing is because I read in a New York Times blog that “studies and statisticians have varied opinions over the precise long-shot odds of actually winning a huge lottery prize.”

What??

Of course, the odds of winning the jackpot are precisely known. Each Mega Millions ticket has a 1 in 175,711,536 chance. Each Powerball ticket has a slightly better 1 in 146,107,962 chance. There are no dissenting opinions.

The quote might make sense if we’re talking about continually buying tickets and cumulative odds with respect to some ‘huge’ threshold amount, or if we’re considering something like the possibility that a winning ticket will have to split the jackpot.

The author compares lottery odds to death-by-lightning odds. Perhaps he intended to say that statisticians have varied opinions over the precise long-shot odds of being killed by lightning. Now that I can believe.

[edit: The story has been amended and now reads “Studies and statisticians give varied calculations for the precise odds of actually winning or splitting a huge lottery prize.” emphasis added]

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2 Responses to “Lottery again”

  1. Alan Cole said

    Some of those long-odds characterizations seem pretty much made up — e.g., a woman still single at age 40 has a greater chance of being struck by lightning than she does of ever marrying. Oh yeah? How do they know? Sheesh.

  2. bassclar said

    Several sources have quoted the director of the Maryland State Lottery, Buddy Roogow, as saying, “You have a better chance of being hit by lightning at the same place and time every day for a week.”

    Now there are probably a few spots on this earth that are especially lightning prone. There are also cities which experience daily thunderstorms for at least a week. But excluding the intersection of those two (i.e. on top of a radio tower in Madison, Wisconsin, in the spring) how could Roogow possibly be right?

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