September 8, 2013

No one understands the lottery

It’s no secret that the human brain doesn’t get the concept of probability. My very basic understanding from a few math courses (and a slight interest) is the reason I don’t care to buy lottery tickets. Sure, your chances of winning are zero if you don’t play, but your chances of winning if you do play are so close to zero that it really makes no difference. You’re better off wandering around town looking for someone to drop a few million dollars on the street.

If I ever buy a lottery ticket (I won’t), my numbers will be consecutive: 1, 2, 3, 4, and so on. Those are just as likely to be a winning combination as anything else. In fact, four (!) people in New South Wales, Australia won a jackpot using numbers 1 through 10 as their picks, receiving more than $2 million each.

If you do play the lottery, know that choosing consecutive numbers isn’t the best strategy. While they do have the exact same chance of winning as any other set, it’s more likely that several players will choose them, as with those Australians, so you’ll have to split any winnings you receive. That’s because, unlike the numbers drawn, the numbers people pick are not random. Going with a random set of numbers each time would bring the best likelihood—still unimaginably small—of keeping it all yourself, or splitting with fewer others.

Leave me out of it, though. If I have a few bucks to spend, I’ll get myself a burger. The burger is guaranteed.

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