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For Those About to (Hard) Rock…

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We Salute You…!

Seems Ottawa City Council wants to greet the Hard Rock casino project with a single finger however! As reported in my May 23, 2017 post, (“Between a Hard Rock and a Lucky Place”), the OLG/Hard Rock International deal to rebuild the Rideau Carleton casino continues to vex local politicians. In a pair of Ottawa Citizen articles, columnist David Reevely lays out how the Big Boys are bulldozing local opposition. Absent the poor sheep ranchers and hired gunslingers it is otherwise a classic Western story. The railroads a-comin’ through yer land and ain’t nothin’ you can do about it!

On November 8 Reevely wrote HRI was using the “committee of adjustment” to request more gaming tables. The committee usually deals with builders and homeowners seeking minor variances within their lot lines. According to Reevely, HRI is trying to flout Council’s original effort to restrict the scope of any gambling mecca. Council set a limit of 21 gaming tables and no inducements for mommy or daddy to blow the kid’s college fund. HRI is working on a $320 million investment and wants a few more tables. Reevely obviously sees this as the proverbial foot-in-the-door. From there, what fresh hell can the entertainment corporation visit on poor benighted Ottawa? Free booze? Prostitution? Donkey Kong slot machines?

In Ottawa developers routinely propose 15-story buildings that become 25-story buildings after approvals. They usually go before the Ontario Municipal Board to get variances on their plans. Neighbours complain; a compromise appears, and clever developers end up with more than they first ask for. If you have a 22-story condo tower shading your backyard you know how the process works. Quite frankly, if I was going to pour millions into a risky venture I would maximise revenues too. Using the committee of adjustment looks a bit sneaky on the surface, but HRI is trying to make its $320M bet a winner. Since there are no moral arguments against gambling left, why quibble over 21 tables versus 35?

“For What You are About to Receive…”

Like in the Western movie however the gunslinger answers to a bigger boss. Four days later Reevely writes it seems like HRI isn’t calling its own shots. Quoting a release from HRI’s PR agent, Reevely says the company needs more tables “…to meet its financial obligations to OLG.” He reports that OLG has been offering assurances to Council since 2013 that the government gambling monopoly would respect the “municipal decision-making process”. Supposedly, OLG only wants willing municipal partners. ‘You say 21 tables,’ (city had to be cajoled into accepting any!), ‘we say fine; 35 it is!’ Wait…what?

Reevely quotes an OLG spokesman who seems to pass the buck right back again. According to him, “…OLG does not prescribe the process for which service providers engage municipalities.” In other words, ‘because we want a big cut from Hard Rock, they have to amp up operations to make any money. Therefore it’s up to them to fix agreements to make it happen’. Cue sound of hands being brushed ‘clean’.

Things may not be quite so dramatic but we don’t know because the OLG/Hard Rock agreement is not public. OLG’s mandate is to maximise returns for their lone shareholder, the government of Ontario. (This used to mean ‘the taxpayers of Ontario’ but let’s not kid ourselves!). As such they operate the same way they urge lottery ticket purchasers: Dream Big! In time more gambling will seem perfectly normal.

City councils tend to be clumsy little cliques of amateur politicians with small staffs. Consequently, the “bigger picture” of federal or provincial politics may elude them. Until they learn what side their bread is buttered on they have to be hand-held and nose-led to the trough. “It’s gambling billion$$ people! Wake up!”

Hard Rock has a reputation to uphold as a lucrative, entertainment supplier. They have to make nice with anybody who can hamper operations and hope higher-ups can deal with roadblocks. Personally, I am all for a massive destination hotel and gambling palace. I won’t actually go there because slot machines seem to hoover money out of one’s paw much faster than picking out single tickets. Nevertheless jobs from building and running the place will ‘stimulate’ the economy. (HRI is already running ads for dealers). Very soon the locals will tire of the novelty and be replaced by out-of-towners.

My bet is Hard Rock will be hard pressed to fill the pews. Rideau Carleton is like everything else in this town: too small, too remote and greeted at the outset with sour faces and bitter comments.

 

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Two Different Approaches to Winning a Lottery

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One Guy Almost Misses his Chance

On these posts we have discussed the near impossibility of winning a lottery from a mathematical viewpoint, but still, somebody does it. “Million-to-one odds” mean nothing when the event actually occurs but sometimes chance goes beyond even those numbers. What are the odds of an event taking place; but no-one knows it did? What is the math of a random occurrence, randomly occurring long after the actual event?

When someone finds a lost wedding ring in a garden they had dug twenty years before this seems miraculous. The phrase “not even a Hollywood writer could come up with this” comes to mind. The story of a dog that finds it’s way hundreds of miles to a lost owner is charming and amazing. We cheer for the dog’s persistence and empathize with the owner’s joy. At least, in that case, every dog has the capability of repeating some version of this story. In our case, stories of people accidentally winning a lottery are not repeatable but there are still curious stories to be told.

Sixty-eight year old former security guard Jimmie Smith has a more lucrative retirement plan today. Not only did he buy a winning ticket, but he didn’t know it. Mr. Smith was in the habit of stuffing his purchases in shirt pockets. Likely, since he never won, he began to simply file the stupid things away and carry on with daily living. The chance-beyond-chance event came when he heard a media report about a $24 million unclaimed prize. The one year anniversary to claim it or lose it was fast approaching. Mr. Smith looked through an old shirt hanging in a closet and found the ‘missing’ ticket.

What if he hadn’t heard that particular report? What if, over the intervening year, that particular shirt was given away or laundered, destroying the ticket? Despite being a habitual buyer, what if he hadn’t bought that ticket on that particular day?

Instead, he and his family get the benefit of an after-tax pay-out over twenty-six years.

What if he had won in Canada where lotteries are tax-free and get paid in fat lumps?

One Guy Tries to Abscond With the Loot

Well, winning in Canada ain’t always a bed of roses! Recently in Chatham ON a gentleman bought a winning ticket but instead of a lump sum, looks set to take some lumps.

Maurice Thibeault thought he could take his winnings and start a new life. After two years co-habiting with his girlfriend Denise Robertson, Mr. Thibeault suddenly moved out. The reason became clear when he showed up at the OLG Prize Claim Office to collect $6.1 million. Fortunately, (or unfortunately according to your viewpoint!), Ms. Robertson got wind of the claim and had a Windsor lawyer shut it down. OLG is a bit antsy about handing out money without a background check since paying millions to retailers back in the early 2000’s. (See “The Good Old Days”, August 8, 2016). As of this posting the matter remains under investigation and neither claimant has seen a dime.

The chance-beyond-chance elements of this story are interesting, if disputed. First off: irony. The prize is actually a split of a $12.2 million 6/49 jackpot. (The other half of the prize has apparently gone smoothly to a Quebec recipient). So, a little schadenfreude; the guy splits a pot with a stranger then tries to split from his girlfriend! Ha! Only a Hollywood writer…etc.

Never mind. The thing is that millions of people buy lottery tickets and millions lose. Except someone every few weeks. In this case, two people decide, or are given by the computer, the exact same number on the same pot. Further, according to Ms. Robertson’s claim, the couple took turns buying tickets each week with the implied agreement to share any winnings. Mr. Thibeault’s rep.’s deny this but if true it adds a layer of chance-beyond-chance: “Honey, did you buy the tickets this week?”

“Yeah sweetie, and wouldn’t ya know it? I won! See ya!”

We don’t know if Mr. Thibeault had been unhappy for a while or if greed got the better of him all of a sudden, but what are the chances you’ll win a lottery just when you want to dump your beau?

As usual unrelated news offers some perspective. In a galaxy way frickin’ far away, two neutron stars collided and blew gold and platinum all over the place. What does this have to do with random lottery tickets and chance co-incidences? Probably not much ultimately, but I got to thinking of the random elements that made up the whole story here on Earth.

130 million years ago, the two massive stars spiraled into each other and exploded so ferociously that they rippled space-time across the universe. We know there are billions of galaxies each comprising billions of stars, (numbers that, like odds, are basically meaningless to civilians). Surely there are millions of neutron stars but only these two crazy kids decide to to hook up. Dinosaurs came and went, ice ages grew and shrank, human ancestors climbed down from trees, and somehow, scientists were able to wangle budgets from reluctant governments…and bam! Here comes a ripple of gravitational waves! We detect them and have theoretical science to explain what we’re detecting and what it means. Maybe millions of other alien civilizations noticed the crash too, but we happen to have the telescopes and detectors to make something of it.

Random events, unobserved by contemporaries, later ripple through time and space. Gold, considered valuable by just about every human, is created far from their sight and grasp. We look to the heavens with every lottery ticket purchase, but the heavens are blind and deaf to our pleas. At least until…

“Honey, did you check the lottery tickets?”

 

 

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3 New Ontario Instant Lotto Games

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Fleecing the Populace One Instant Ticket at a Time

I will take this opportunity to re-iterate that Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG) does not compensate me in any way for writing about their products. In fact, their products don’t compensate me either. Nonetheless as a public service I feel compelled to discuss instant lottery offerings with fellow sufferers.

This month look for The Big Spin ($5). As I complained about in “Not Keen on Keno” (July 11, 2017), this ticket is yet another variation on a match number game. You get five “lucky”numbers to match a pool of 20 “your” numbers. Not easy since the “your” number pool is already missing 60% of the range. Never mind though, this ticket offers an exciting wrinkle: you can win a spin!

OK maybe not that exciting but it happened with the first ticket I bought. I matched a number that gave me a “spin” and I took it back to the retailer. As the merchant confirmed the ticket in the computer an animated wheel started spinning and I won $20. (With a spin you’re guaranteed at least $10 and as much as $10,000). Eight buyers (out of 8.2 million tickets), will actually see “Big Spin” come up on the screen and get a shot at $500,000. As always, take a look at the game fact sheet. You will notice that over 2 million prizes are available, but 95% are $5-$20. You will also notice that you keep buying the damn things without winning again!

Two other games at least depart from the match number format. Hot Hand is also $5 and features ten little Blackjack hands with a “Doubler” bonus. OK sure, you’re just scratching off latex to get at the big reveal, but they’re trying to make it look like a game. The Hot Hand game sheet informs you that 805,000 prizes are for the taking…out of nearly 3.2 million tickets. Mathematically, one in four tickets has something on it, (again 80% are $25 or less), but I’m still looking.

Finally, also in the $5 category, there is High 5. There’s not much to it: 15 games of a three-symbol match, but a top prize of $100,000. Of interest is a ‘5’ symbol or hand symbol that multiplies the prize 5 or 10X respectively. (Only applies to $5-$50 prizes but what the heck). Odds and prize distribution, (i.e. 8 jackpots out of 3.2 million tix), are similar to the other tickets.

Don’t forget: never buy any instant ticket without first checking the Instant Unclaimed Prize Information page. There you will discover which tickets no longer have big prizes outstanding. You will notice there are older versions of games without jackpots but newer versions have all prizes available.

Covering the Numbers

I want to take a moment to mention I technique I used to play Lottario this week. This Ontario-only 6/45 lottery costs a buck per ticket but also includes a bonus selection. In other words you get two tickets for a dollar. Generally jackpots don’t climb as high as Lotto Max or 6/49 although the September 23, 2017 draw should be $880,000. The second prizes and beyond fall off in a hurry, but who’s buying a ticket for that?

The ‘trick’ is to use all 45 numbers on as few tickets as possible. After cashing in an instant ticket for $3 worth of Lottario (i.e. six tix), I realized it wouldn’t take much to ensure I used all 45 numbers. I jotted down all the missing digits and then, standing at the retailer display, I randomly filled in four more tickets. The result was a free ticket and a $4 win, (odds of 8:1 and 24:1).

This is not a lottery “winning” technique, but a lottery “playing” technique. The fact that Lottario gives you a bonus selection for every one you pick doubles your selections. I had fourteen selections in total and could guarantee that all six winning numbers would be somewhere among them. Perhaps I should have done better, but the problem is you’re choosing individual numbers when the winner is a set of six. Furthermore, fourteen selections is a long way short of the 8 million possible combinations!

I thought of doing the same for Ontario 49, which is also a dollar, but it doesn’t provide the bonus selection. Also, as a 6/49 lottery it has almost 14 million possible winning combinations. Just didn’t seem as much “fun”. Guess I’ll just keep throwing $7 or so at Lottario.

As with any lottery, chosen or instant, there is only one technique for winning: be in the right place and time and buy the winning ticket.

Let me know how that works out for you!

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Your Lucky Lottery Store

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How Do You Get Rid of a Winning Ticket?

It seems like an odd conundrum but we all know what to do with losing tickets. (Actually I stack them up and occasionally add them up to torment myself!). However, those pesky $1 to $10 winners demand our attention. We have to be suitably grateful that we got some kind of a win versus all the losing. It’s still real money and hey, it’s another free kick at the can. The thing is; do you go back to the “lucky lottery store” where you bought it? Or, knowing every tray of tickets is full of blanks, do you move on to the next hunting ground?

In fact neither technique works because you only found your winner by blind stupid luck. The ticket beside it could have been worth a million bucks and the next fifty worth nothing. That’s true across the distribution from one end of the country to another. There is no lucky location; only blind luck wherever you pick.

I have a circle of stores no more than 10 kilometers away that I use regularly. Occasionally, one location seems to offer a string of ‘hits’ and I go to it until it runs dry. Of course it runs dry. It’s dry to begin with. But even if I figure the collection of tickets on offer can only hold so many winners, it doesn’t help to trade in the little winners anywhere else either. The vast majority of instant tickets offer nothing, and eventually, inevitably, that’s what you’ll end up with.

Case in point: an On the Run corner store attached to a local Esso station. In spite of having otherwise functioning mental abilities, I bought a $10 X Money ticket and a $3 Money Ball. Prior to doing so I did look up their prize structures and available jackpots at OLG. Always check the INSTANT Unclaimed Prize Information page before buying! Sure, your odds of winning a jackpot can be 2 million to one, but they are precisely zero if that ticket has none left. (See Quest for Gold Crossword for instance).

Literally against all odds both tickets were winners. But don’t book the ticket to Bali just yet. I won $13. The chance of picking out a $10 winner in X Money is 1.6 million out of 15 million tickets nationwide. Mathematically, 9.36:1, but only 7 million tix came to Ontario. (See X Money, Players Guide Fact Sheet). Presumably only half of the $10 winners did too. But, grab a second ticket and also win? Money Ball offers 418,000 chances to win $3, out of more than 3 million tix. To do both I assume you multiply the two odds. What am I; a mathematician?

Set No Store by Lottery Luck

So, do I go back to the same tray of tickets and hope to have yet more luck? Am I on a roll? I decide yes…sort of. Surely many other suckers have bought tickets here and cleaned out the losers. Or did luckier people than me come along and hoover up the winners that I just missed? Would another store offer any better odds?

I turned in my ill-gotten gains for two more Money Balls and a mitt full of $1 tix. I also included a 6/49 quick pick because “you can’t win if you don’t play”. Of the four little tix two won a buck each. Of two Money Balls I collected another $3. So as the tickets lead me down a path to nowhere, they also entice me with false thoughts that the ‘next one’ will finally prove the break out winner. I know from experience that, in fact, I will trade in little winners until I get little losers but there’s no sense saving a buck or two.

Despite picking half winners each time, I can’t bring myself to feel like a ‘winner’. It’s the Zeno’s Paradox of lotteries! You spend $13 and win $13. You trade it in and win $5 and so on until you pick nothing. Rinse and repeat. I could simply stop buying lottery tickets but that ship sailed forty years ago. Of course, OLG’s TV and radio ads keep infecting me with a fresh case of Lottery Fever, and the company that prints these things is working to keep me hooked too.

Pollard Banknote Co., a 110 year old company based in Winnipeg Manitoba, brags about the innovations that drive ticket sales. They are self-described “trendsetters” in making shiny instant tickets that drive higher sales.  The sales enrich their clients while they impoverish the customers of those clients but I bear them no ill-will. I’m kind of proud they are a Canadian company. Their product, while nefarious in principle, is after all a luxury item anyone can forego.

I resolve to escape Zeno’s Paradox this time! Uh…well…after I trade in these little winners.

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Pandemic Lottery Fever

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Fever Never Breaks

In the past I’ve explored “The Persistence of Bad Ideas” (Dec. 9th, 2016) in politics. As an opener I pointed out that the ‘grand daddy’ of all bad ideas is playing the lottery expecting to win. The insidious nature of Lottery Fever is not lost on our elected officials who at least pay lip-service to the problems of chronic gambling. (See “Between A Hard Rock and a Lucky Place.”, May 23, 2017). When it’s visible, it’s headline news. When it’s the run-of-the-mill gambling frustration, no-one cares.

Now I’m not calling for recognition for failing at gambling. What color of ribbon would our politicians wear as they weep their crocodile tears? Should we have a national “Buy a Loser Lottery Ticket Day” to collectively commiserate? (Of course some other asshole would win then!) We’re all big boys and girls and if you can’t take the heat stay away from the lottery retailer. But after another useless ticket buy, I got to thinking about the corrosive effect of wanting to win a lottery at all.

In a “Hi and Lois” comic strip August 8, 2017, Hi’s drunken neighbor Thirsty, (get it?) is buying tickets and asks why Hi doesn’t likewise indulge. Hi says: “I’m afraid if I won, it would mess up my life”. This is an odd set up for a terrible punch line. The third panel is Thirsty miserably conceding that his life is already a mess. The theme I suppose is that “free” money can come at a terrible price. This has happened to some. But as we all know the real bitter pill is the weeks and weeks of little blank tickets that are the most common occurrence. “Sure”, we tell ourselves, “I’d like to find out how miserable I’d get by winning!” But that is one outcome that eludes us. What price do we pay for losing all the time?

A Disease Your Gov’t Wants You to Catch

There are functions that a government must perform like administering justice and maintaining infrastructure. Everything else they do to us is a rising tide of degrading our citizenship in the name of the “common good”. Health? Education? Since when do they know better than actual practitioners how to deliver those services? Sewer and water? No problem! In Ottawa you swim in both!

Since they greedily absorb any new task they can get their hands on, cash-addicted governments need insidious methods to keep their good times flowing. New taxes and fees pile onto old ones. They raise them on Fridays before long weekends so our illustrious media barely mentions it. Every nickel and dime is added to every dollar until its almost like real money…to us anyway.

Most Canadian provinces monopolize alcohol sales like it’s 1929. Excise taxes here have a one-way trajectory from outrageous to astronomical. A recent federal Liberal budget proposes just ratcheting them up automatically. Why bother with that pesky democracy crap. No political party will actually lower so-called ‘sin’ taxes anyway!

Gambling is a jealously guarded resource. (If only they paid as much attention to getting pipelines built we’d all be millionaires.). Sure provinces set up “corporations” to manage them, but where can I buy shares? Oh, I see. Like phony alcohol sales figures that claim billions of dollars are being raised for hospitals and schools, gambling revenues are painted as an innocent by-product of a legitimate business. Slick advertising campaigns, (well, annoying really), show us fulfilled, energetic winners taking on the world. Not a grumbling loser in sight. Yeah, I know, that’s the purpose of marketing. Don’t like it; tune it out.

But if government was at all concerned for the down stream effects of their dirty business, why all the cajoling and pushing? After all, cigarettes must be sold in plain packaging; from behind a shameful opaque shield. If governments simply want the revenue; why the shiny tickets and phony bonhomie? Why not sell only black and white tickets with a standard prize of say, $10,000. As always most tickets would be losers but revenues would be just as steady. Or does the government and their gambling industry allies know something more? I guess they know that only by injecting fake dreams into the process can they keep the rubes coming in the door.

Self Infecting or Self Reflecting

There are people who like gambling and accept losing as part of the game. There are those who wave goodbye to a couple of bucks a week and don’t think twice about it. Or at least, that’s what they tell themselves. Eighteen per cent of Ontario adults buy lottery tickets every week; 45% at least monthly. (It would be nice to have them visit this site as often, but I realize most people don’t take their purchases so seriously). I can’t be the only one who not only attempts to win, but even imagines a sliding scale of success.

Win a hundred bucks or two? Cool. Good for a case of beer or extra wine. A thousand or two I would be acceptable. But it’s the tens and hundreds of thousands we crave! Millions might be problematic and I’m not sure I actually desire a Lotto Max jackpot when it hits $50-60 million. (Think of the responsibility for making something out of that! Ugh!). At every level I can enumerate what bills I can pay and how I can assist my family. I truly don’t need to buy more fancy shit; I just want to own the shit I have now!

Ultimately though we are paying off our bills and helping out our families. At any time we can be charitable to the less fortunate and make investments for future comfort. We don’t need windfall profits to do any of that.

I guess the problem is the slow-motion nature of living and working day to day while debts go on forever. In addition to that, elected governments routinely snatch our future away with massive debts and excessive taxation. Any short cut looks like the only way out. So, as a result of the very government policies that drag us down, along comes a phony government scheme to boost us up! You only have to remember: you’re not playing the lottery, it’s playing you! Sadly, so is your government.

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