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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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Beating Government Lotteries

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Where There’s Gambling, There’s Cheating.

My friend Adam recently sent me the following article detailing how the esteemed philosopher Voltaire and some rich friends beat a French government lottery in the 18th century. Turns out the Deputy Minister of Finance, Michel Robert Le Pelletier Des Forts, was not as smart as French mathematician Charles Marie de la Condamine. Like every government since the organization of the nation-state, Le Pelletier-Desforts was pressured by economic conditions to come up with new ways to fleece the populace. His solution was the creation of a lottery based on a the price of bonds. In this case, a face value of 1,000 livres would equal a ticket of one livre. The selected ticket would win the holder a face-value bond and a jackpot of 500,000 livres.

Condamine realized that since every ticket had an equal chance of winning, you’d have to be a sucker to buy a few high value bonds, (what the government wanted), instead of many low value bonds at “pennies on the dollar”. Voltaire’s part in the scheme was to arrange with a compliant notary (government official in charge of selling the lottery tickets), to purchase stacks of bonds without arousing suspicion. If the government knew a few rich people were gaming the scheme, they would shut it down.

Condamine’s syndicate managed to win a few lotteries before the French government cottoned on to them. In this case the lottery was too simplistic to avoid the inevitable smart ass in the crowd figuring it out. What are the odds anybody can do it today?

Zilch.

Pooling Risk and Reward

That’s not to say a wealthy syndicate couldn’t buy a lottery win if they wanted to. It is, after all, simple mathematics. In a 6/49 lottery, there are just over 13.9 million possible tickets. In Canada we have just such a lottery, cleverly called “6/49”. Figure out the logistics of buying that many tickets before the draw, (every Wednesday and Saturday night), and you could win twice a week.

The problems are numerous. At $3 per ticket the total cost would be nearly $42 million per draw. Of course, the jackpot would have to exceed that total and it rarely does. Also, some little old lady in Regina could buy just one ticket and halve your jackpot. OLG does offer an online method for buying tickets, but I’m going to assume they will not let you set a limit of $42 million!

Canada also has Lotto Max where jackpots can and do reach $60 million. However, tickets are $5 each and the draw is a 7/49 scheme. Each ticket consists of three selections but the math gets complicated. Odds against winning are 28.6 million to one. You don’t need to spend $143 million to get every combination, (the computer selects two random ones for every selection) but the grand prize is capped unlike US Powerball lotteries. It is no accident that governments have pushed the per ticket cost out past the point that a syndicate could corner the market!

Now, if one was using euros, (presently about $1.45 CDN) or UK pounds ($1.64) or US dollars ($1.27) one would immediately realize a discount 30-60%. You could buy 13.9 million tickets for perhaps $24 million. Furthermore, although every one of the number combinations has the same mathematical chance of coming up, I am not aware of any time when six or even five numbers have come up in a row. If you could cook up an algorithm to take these choices out, you could save your syndicate another, what? 40%? (I’m no mathematician!).

Many offices have pools where individuals will chip in an equal amount and share any winnings…and losings. Online you can find global pools that play any national lottery you want. Lottery Syndicate World even aggregates multiple syndicate sites. Most impressively to me, this site also points out that there is no such thing as a scheme or technique for winning. Playing a lottery can only be a passive activity. Pop in a few bucks per week and forget about it. Odds are you’ll never see it again. But at least, in a syndicate, you can share the misery!

 

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Not Keen on Keno

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Government Running Out of Lottery Schemes?

I have had readers complain that my more political ruminations are off topic for a lottery site. Fair enough. In any case, one can hardly keep up with the political stupidity spewing from Liberal governments lately. Better to stay on topic and leave the anger for other platforms.

So; has anybody else noticed how boring instant (scratch) tickets are getting? Probably not. Half of us only buy draw-based tickets (e.g. 6/49). Forty-six per cent of sufferers buy scratch and draw tickets and only 4% buy just scratchers. I have, in the past, described ways to attack draw-based lotteries, (see: June 29, 2016, “Winning the Lottery: Luck of the Draw”), but instant games are just so many pieces of cardboard lying in a tray.

There is, however, information you can use to ‘play’ if not to win. Above, you can click on the “Instant Tickets Facts and Figures” page. It links to most of OLG’s games and, most importantly, directs you to OLG’s Instant Unclaimed Prize Information page. On it you will discover that, for example, there are no big prizes left for the Quest for Gold Crossword game. Don’t buy that one. Also available for each game is a statistical fact sheet. These PDF’s inform you that Quest for Gold Crossword started out with 6.8 million prizes. Wow! Uh, but that was among 26.4 million tickets meaning almost 20 million tickets were “blank”. Boo! Worse than that was the fact that nearly 4.2 million of the prizes were $3-$15 so your odds of paying for Little Joey’s college fund was already vanishingly small.

All the tickets have similar statistics because, of course, lotteries are designed for you to lose. The only thing left to entertain us is the weird thought that one ticket will not be like the others and, the ‘game’ will keep us amused for a few minutes.

Keno: Scratch and Yawn

Traditionally, keno is a casino game where the victim chooses up to twenty numbers from a 1-80 pool. Bettors pay more for more selections and bet on a bigger payout the more matches they can make. Casinos base their calculations on how many suckers bet and lose versus how often they are likely to pay someone for the occasional lucky guess. Despite the appearance of being able to hit at least some numbers of the 80 available, it is possible to miss…often.

OLG has many instant games including an actual one called Kenobut too many of them are resorting to a keno-like game. By that I mean you are given five “lucky numbers” to match at least one “your numbers” out of 10 to 20 possibles. The illusion is that this wide pool offers a decent chance of catching something.

In this case it is simply the 6/49 frozen in cardboard. You are only given 20 “your numbers” so immediately 29 of 49 are off the board. Then you are given only 5 “lucky numbers” to match, not 20 numbers, but the original 49, of which 60% are not there!

My complaint here isn’t that I can’t win a lottery. I’m not supposed to. But rather that so many OLG games are resorting to this model. From the $2, $3 and $5 “Neon” series to the $30 “Golden Treasure” ticket the same boring game keeps appearing. Now newer games are just repainting the same tired scene. “In the Money Multiplier” ($5) depicts a thunderous horse race on the cover. Scratch and lose.

Now of course one can stop whining, (oh, but it’s my favorite indoor sport!), and play Lucky Lines or Home Run Derby but they’re the same game with different symbols.

Then there’s Crossword. As mentioned, Quest for Gold Crossword is played out but there is regular Crossword ($3) and Crossword Tripler ($5) and Crossword Deluxe ($10). The problem is no-one claims their multiple jackpots for months. It’s just too complicated to win anything useful. In this case the ticket features words with extra syllables, (e.g. ‘undergo’ rather than just ‘under’), and provides only 18 letters out of a possible 26. Something is always going to be missing.

As usual I have little to offer in terms of advice. Draw lotteries change every week so suckers can plot their little strategies and calculate their odds every week. Instant games are printed and sit their waiting for that lucky bastard who picks the one with a win on it. Can’t really make them interactive. 90% of tickets must be losers or the whole thing will just come crashing down.

Oh wait, maybe that’s good advice!

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Random Chances: Fate and Tragedy

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At the Right Place

Ottawa is host to “Canada’s newest millionaire” after a gentleman bought 6/49 tickets to break a fifty dollar bill at a Preston Street bodega. According to a CTV report Mr. Paul Hindo merely asked for “quick picks” in order to get change for his bill. A computer gave him its idea of random numbers. Days later a barrel of rubber balls spat out their random numbers. Result: a cheque for $22 million.

The fact there is no ‘system’ or mathematical quackery involved can be encouraging or discouraging. On the plus side the story reinforces that winners need only be in the right place and time to win. The Lottery Plague, uh, ‘Dream’, is spread by the idea that anybody can be a winner; one need only buy a ticket to get in on it. Of course you have to ignore the fact that five million other players won nothing.

On the other hand it also illustrates that winners do not arise by careful plotting, analysis, determination and hard work. In other words; you cannot win the lottery by anything you do. You are not playing the lottery, it is playing you.

After yet another futile toss of a couple bucks into the pot, I had a discouraging thought: “There’s No Help Coming”. For the umpteenth time I realized I would never win a lottery. Winning, unlike giving in to the urge to play, is not inevitable. We don’t all get a ‘turn’. Most people realize this and act accordingly. They are what we call “non-players”. But lottery players have to ignore this reality to feed their obsession.

When the phrase first came to me it simply meant I would have to keep working for a living rather than have manna fall from heaven. Since my income ain’t what it used to be this was not an uplifting message. I texted this slogan to a friend on June 9th: “No Help Coming”, to find out what he thought. He took it to refer to the fact that Big Government would not be there when you need them. We are all basically on our own. That’s the great thing about t-shirt slogans. The reader can find what they want in them.

Wrong Place and Time

Within a week I was stunned to see the phrase appear in relation to a horrible tragedy. The Grenfell Tower fire has killed at least 79 people and shattered the lives of thousands more. The building burned with frightening speed, overwhelming emergency crews and forcing residents to save themselves and neighbours as best they could.

One man, in touch with his trapped family by cell phone, had to tell them: “There’s no help coming.”

Characteristically for our present age, political foes immediately began blaming each other for the horror. For the ‘left’ it was result of government cutbacks. The residents of public housing are poor and taken for granted by the “rich”. On the ‘right’: local Labour councillors approved of the combustible materials on the building. Some suggest it was chosen for its eco-friendly credentials, not safety.

Apparently fire officials told residents to stay in their apartments. This only makes sense if the fire is under control. You don’t want residents clogging up the hallways and stairwells to hamper firefighting efforts. Instead, too many people never got a chance to flee.

It’s obvious that one mistaken judgement after another contributed to the tragedy. An apartment building, hundreds of feet higher than ladders can reach, was redecorated with the wrong materials. Fire warning and suppression devices were obviously inadequate. (Apparently, residents had complained since 2013 about disconnected fire alarms and sprinklers). We have to assume England has modern building standards compelled by law, no exceptions. Even if fire safety inspections are less frequent in 2017 than they were in 2010 or 2001, surely the relevant officials could order remedial work whenever its need became obvious. Indeed, the building was issued just such an order by the London fire brigade in November 2016.

So if architects and safety experts, local and national politicians, emergency crews and all the rest of modern political infrastructure can’t keep you safe, what’s a citizen to do? I don’t subscribe to the nihilist/libertarian paradigm that suggests zero government is workable. And of course I’m no fan of the intrusive Leviathan that seeks to dictate people’s thoughts and actions while claiming to educate their children and ensure their health care. Liberal governments in Canada provide perfect demonstrations that creating dozens of Cabinet posts to serve endless special interests does not improve governance. (Still waiting for Conservative governments to act on this).

Obviously there are things governments can do in whole or in part. They don’t need to deliver health care or education; just make sure everybody has an equitable crack at it. They sure as hell don’t need to sell alcohol or lottery tickets. Government, as an expression of society’s priorities, is there to protect the vulnerable and punish the wicked. It is not there to approve personal opinions and force undesirable options on unwilling adults. It should be there when people are at real risk of someone else’s ignorance or incompetence.

As always, when the unthinkable happens and hindsight seems to suggest it never should have, there are multiple answers and none. Big Government cannot keep you any safer than Bigger Government. Small or Lean government can hand off responsibility to others but they must ensure those others are ready and competent to take over. What it boils down to is people.

There are people in charge and most of us don’t know who they are. We assume only the most competent attain positions of authority, but can’t test this in advance. Perhaps we should take a moment once and a while to question who they are and what they’re up to. Right now, everybody should write a letter to local authorities and ask them about the Grenfell Tower tragedy. Ask about local buildings and fire codes. If you get back a bunch of reassuring bumpf from a local politician; then at least that tells you something. If they say they have contacted other authorities to raise your point that tells you something more. It tells you that as a citizen, you have a right to know, and a responsibility to participate. We have a responsibility to let the ‘watchers’ know we are watching them.

 

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