While sitting in a bar with Lotto the other day I noticed that when no one won a particular prize the dough (or at least some portion of it) rolled over into the next pot. For instance, if no one gets 4 out of 4, then that pot rolls over. I’m assuming that the more people who bet four numbers, the more cashola goes into the next pot. That makes it possible, if the prize rolls over enough and enough people are playing (paying) for that prize, that the expected value of the reward could conceivably exceed the cost to play. In other words, the prize would be larger than the cost of covering all possible outcomes. (The one time I did the math it looked like the return on a dollar bet was in the $.50-$.60 range depending on how many numbers you chose, far worse than almost any bet you’ll find in Vegas.)

Normally when a jackpot gets really large the expected value of an entry decreases because so many people participate that the chances of sharing the prize rise faster than the value of the prize itself does. But with ordinary ho-hum lotto you would have to be extra diligent to notice when the prize had grown to an enticing level. Since there is a new drawing every few minutes, when the prize does get large enough there is no time for a gambler to respond.

So what you need is something that monitors the lotto channel and watches for particular prizes to roll over an extraordinary number of times. (Ideally you would also be able to see how much money rolled over each time.) When enough moolah is on the line, Lotto-matic would enter you in that drawing for all possible permutations. I doubt that would be possible—entries have to go through special machines. Failing that, the system would notify you and you would spend the next ten minutes furiously filling in lotto slips.

Of course, if the system can’t enter you automatically, you have to already be at a location with a lotto machine (say, perhaps, a bar) when the opportunity strikes. The cost of sitting in a bar waiting for the right moment is likely (at least in my case) to dwarf any potential winnings. It might, however, be tax-deductible…

5 thoughts on “Lotto-matic

  1. I did a quick search to see if the lotto results were updated on the Web in real time; there’s lots of stuff about the twice-weekly deal, but nothing about the every-few-minutes brand.

    While I was searching I was appalled at the number of people selling “systems” to improve one’s chances of winning. As far as I could tell in my limited survey, all the systems were based on numbers, and they all cost in the neighborhood of forty bucks.

    “Of course the system is based on numbers,” I hear you say. It’s a lottery. No, no, no. The numbers cannot be predicted. 1,2,3,4,5 is just as likely as any other combination.

    What can be predicted is the behavior of other Lottery participants. Send me ten bucks and I’ll tell you not how to increase the chance of your winning, but how to get bigger prizes when (cough) you do win.

    Better yet, spend the ten bucks on beer. At least you’ll get something of value out if it.

  2. My (unscientific) guess about how to increase the chances of winning a bigger pot when one does win: don’t choose your own numbers, but rather, let the lotto terminal do it. My reasoning is thus: when people select their own numbers, those numbers aren’t random, but rather are based on some conscious or subconscious process on the part of the bettor. Thus, more bettors will be choosing those numbers, so when those numbers win, it is likely that the prize will be split among multiple winnters.

    On the other hand, if you let the lotto terminal pick your numbers, there’s no human bias, so you’re less likely to have to share the prize. The store clerk is also happier, since he or she doesn’t have to enter numbers you’ve selected but just has to press one button.

    Of course, those factors may not apply in all states. Here in New Mexico, for instance, the state has chosen not to permit the every-five-minutes type of lotto.

    I am reminded of some of the schemes people have tried to sell for winning Bingo — such as, in the I column, more numbers begin with 2 than any other number, so you should select a Bingo card where all the numbers in the I column begin with 2 … and so forth for each column. I suppose if I were into Bingo, I could really cash in by taking the cards that don’t have the supposedly more likely numbers.

  3. CarolAnne is right. A few years ago, one of the lotteries run in VA randomly came up with 666 in the winning combo. All sorts of pasty faced, goth, satanist wannabes came out of the woodwork to claim their share of the prize.

    There is a way to win at lotto: 1) buy a ticket, 2) recognize you wont win, 3) feel good about the dollar going to the school fund, 4) with better schools we all win.

    and in parantheses…(5. conveniently ignore the unwashed masses – in Jess’ pollyannish scenario – who buy loads of tickets instead food for their families)

    another good thing about Eats, Shoots and Leaves is it made me unafraid to use the dash.

  4. As for the lottery numbers, you can use the number-choosing behavior of others to hand-select sets that are less likely to be chosen by others who choose their own numbers. for instance, many people use dates to choose numbers, so you should avoid numbers 31 or less. No one chooses a sequence of numbers like 34,35,36,37,38 (“What are the chances of that coming up?” The same as for any other combination, of course.)

    Although there may be enough people who adopt a strategy like that to undermine a linear sequence, but some sort of obvious geometric sequence is less likely to be chosen by others.

    Alas, here in CA as soon as the lottery starting providing funds to schools, other revenue sources were cut. The net effect is that the lottery has not helped the schools in the long run. It is simply a tax on people who can’t do math.

  5. Unfortunately, in many states, if not all that have instituted lotteries, what the lottery provideth, the state legislature taketh away, as Jerry has observed in California, by cutting other revenues. Here in New Mexico, that’s true of the half of lottery money that goes to K-12 schools.

    On the other hand, half of New Mexico’s lottery money is earmarked for college scholarships for all NM students who graduate high school with at least a C average and who attend a state college or university. What happens to that money? Funny thing … UNM, NMSU, et al, keep raising tuition, each year by about the same amount as lottery revenues increase.

    So while half of NM’s lottery money turns into a general-revenue tax on those who can’t do math, half turns into a tax that actually supports postsecondary education. Wow.

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