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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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Between a Hard Rock and a Lucky Place

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Hard Rock Casino in Ottawa Unsettles City Council

The Ottawa Citizen reports that a proposal to update and upgrade the old Rideau Carleton Raceway horse track and betting parlour has city council running in different directions. Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation has signed a deal with Hard Rock International to run the new gambling den in south Ottawa.

Ordinarily, announcing $320 million in investment dollars has elected sock puppets fighting over the ribbon-cutting scissors. In this case, the moral taint of gambling seems to have shaken some councillors like a pair of aces on the river.

Of course Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk is still fuming over the curt dismissal of his $500M proposal to put a casino on the outskirts of nowhere, (aka Kanata ON). Gloucester-Southgate Councillor Diane Deans has a different complaint: “I think it’s a problem that the government is addicted to gambling money”.

Her objections are partly the classic “NIMBY” complaints about traffic but she adds a moral twist: people suffer from gambling addiction. Why add to their woes by providing them with a slick palace of music and food to go with it? In 2013 city council considered an Ottawa Public Health report urging gambling be restricted. The report recommended there be no ATM’s on the gambling floor or booze service. The casino should restrict maximum bet sizes and limit daily losses. Troubled punters would have to self-exclude and have personal monthly statements issued. There should be no casino loyalty programs.

The issue of not having gambling never came up. It was only a question of how much.

OLG, Ontario’s lottery “watchdog” and, of course, government corporation in charge of raking in the dough, claimed to share the city’s concern about problem gambling. So concerned in fact that they included none of these recommendations in the 20 year contract with Hard Rock International. I don’t blame HRI of course, they are in the business of creating entertainment destinations. Can’t even blame OLG really. Elected politicians mandate the organization to bring home the bacon and it does. Are thousands of lives ruined in the process? So? Didn’t OLG tell you gambling is just for “fun”?

Councillor Dean didn’t specify which government is addicted to gambling money but she didn’t have to. They all are. Originally, city council got OLG to agree to a limit of 1,251 slot machines and 21 gaming tables at Rideau Carleton. Perhaps they felt limiting supply would keep the weak-willed from putting their families in hock. However, OLG is not the only game in town.

Across the Ottawa River is the Casino Lac Leamy gambling den hosted by Government monopoly Loto-Quebec. It has 1,800 slots machines and 65 tables and no doubt pulls hundreds of millions of dollars that can otherwise be sucked up in Ottawa.

River Councillor Riley Brockington apparently believes the OLG “should blow it wide open.” He expressed concern for dollars leaving Ottawa for Quebec. (I’m guessing he’s not counting “equalization payments” that flow to La Belle Province in prodigious amounts!). According to the Ottawa Citizen this was “his main motivation when considering the casino, not the financial benefit for city coffers”.

But why not? Ottawa stands to gain millions of dollars while a multi-national corporation takes all the risks. Why not roll the dice? After all, some of the broken homes will be in other cities!

Easy Money’s Hard Trail

I’m a conservative by nature and see free enterprise conferring great benefits on humankind. Hard Rock is free enterprise at it’s best: food, drink, entertainment. Glitzy ballrooms and shiny baubles are what the rubes demand and what HRI supplies. Grow your company from an idea to a shiny steel and glass palace and bring jobs to your town and wealth to your investors. It’s just as much a North American dream as…well, winning a lottery.

Of course, money isn’t everything and ill-gotten gains, though welcomed at any bank, have unintended consequences. Problem gambling is defined as an activity that destroys one’s credit, causes one’s family to suffer and undermines one’s fiscal and mental health. But are the signs always so visible? Are not all gamblers touched by the same disease? No matter how innocently we portray our weekly ticket or two, or occasional trip to a casino, are we not all infected with the idea of easy money?

Our politicians and bureaucrats cast about for ways to feed insatiable Leviathan (i.e. Big Government), while citizens struggle to keep some income for themselves. In Ontario a hated government raises utility bills, employment fees, excises and income taxes while dispensing billions of dollars to hide their abject incompetence, (e.g. “green energy”). Can we afford to give these people access to easy money? Oh yeah. That’s right, they just take it.

But I can’t be the only one who buys lottery tickets with similar motivation. I have bills to pay and desires to fulfill. I want to make my family happier. If only there was a way to pocket some extra bucks that didn’t require any effort.

Sorry, there isn’t one. Gambling takes now or later but the house always wins.

So would it be easier to fold our cards and all agree that gambling should go back under the rock from whence it came? Let’s drop the nagging urgency of easy money and go back to working for a living and balancing our budgets. Of course we don’t all agree gambling hurts us in particular. Five bucks per week isn’t exactly “reefer madness”. As for politicians living within their (our) means….

The horsemen who ply their trade on the track at Rideau-Carleton are familiar with an old saying: “closing the barn door after the horse has bolted.”

Good luck to Diane Deans trying to rein in this galloping horse. Good luck to Riley Brockington trying to bring benefits to Ottawa. Finally, good luck Hard Rock. After all, Ottawa is known as “the town that fun forgot”.

 

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‘Electricity in the Air’: Bad News for Wynne

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Wynne’s Liberal Government Begs to be Turfed.

In the past year or so politics has become a desert of shifting sands for established parties. President Trump has knocked the bottom out of his own Republican Party as much as the shattered Democrats. Marine Le Pen seems poised to lead her National Front somewhere; perhaps into government. In the Netherlands Geert Wilders had hopes but despite gains has to negotiate to see if he can push his agenda further. Other countries have seen populist parties gain in, well, popularity, while their media establishments reel from a flight of revenues and readers to innumerable new opinion platforms.

We live in an age of instant reaction to questionable information. You have ten seconds to not sound like a freak before the digital mob comes screaming with pitchforks. Good luck explaining what you really have in mind after the label is slapped on. Twenty per cent of the population may cheer you on against twenty per cent who are already burning your effigy. The other 60%? Please don’t call during the Stanley Cup play-offs!

Politicians have always known they need to stir that 60% every four years or so. Million-dollar spin doctors try to ensure their clients have their hand on the spoon but too many other players are splashing out money too. Advocacy groups with harmless sounding names form parades that turn into riots. Students marching in favour of “free speech” shout down any who disagree. Public sector unions put up bus ads during elections to promote their own self-interest. If that gibes with the party in power, then no-one points out the hypocrisy.

Ever since Dalton McGuinty fled to escape blame for the hideously expensive gas plant cancellation, his fall-girl Kathleen Wynne has clung to the remnants of Liberal hegemony in Ontario. Despite a falling popular vote, the Liberals have managed to fashion majorities in the previous four elections, (2003, 2007, 2011 and 2014). No wonder PM Trudeau in Ottawa has dropped his election “promise” to change Canada’s first-past-the-post voting system. When your party can claim majorities with a shrinking popular vote, why fix it?

When the Worm Turns

Unfortunately Ontario has been here before. Liberals investigated for corruptionLiberals perpetrate massive financial stupidity. Liberals fight with doctors or teachers who threaten job action. So how are they still in power? They use our money to pay off unions and pretend to fix their mistakes by pushing costs past the next election cycle. Bribed with their own moneyThe Sleepy Sixty % believe the Liberals have hearts of gold. Conversely, even when Conservatives pander to the same policy, they are portrayed as heartless. Lacking a charismatic leader, the Ontario Progressive Conservatives fail to catch fire when it counts.

Ditto the NDP with their nice leader Andrea Horwath. In any case Ontario mistakenly tried a NDP government in 1990 and won’t go back. It remains up to PC leader Patrick Brown to tear down the wall of lies surrounding this province’s administration. Previous attempts by the unloved Tim Hudak foundered on his murky messaging, (e.g. cut 100,000 public servants and create a million new jobs. Huh?). Mr. Brown has already been sideswiped by a typical Liberal ploy. Copying their cynical colleagues in Ottawa, Ontario Libs introduced a motion against religious intolerance. Problem is, it panders to only one religion and includes the nonsense term “islamaphobia”. Like M-103 in Ottawa, the only purpose is to accuse your opponent of having some kind of mental defect, unless of course they fall to their knees and confess their ‘white guilt’ for everything that has befallen Planet Earth since the dinosaurs.

Say what you will about President Trump but so far he has taken this politically correct nonsense and shrugged it off. His opponents aren’t just the usual Democrat rabble, but all the entrenched, corrupt self-servers who line their pockets at taxpayer’s expense. They will not roll over when their entitlements are at risk. Neither will they openly explain why they deserve to lie cheat and steal while everyone else works for a living. Count on elections in Ontario, and elsewhere, to feature vapid ‘feelings’ and fear messages. Expect murky advocacy groups to march and riot. Rely on Liberals to spit out more nonsense terms and imaginary accusations. Hope that we have a political leader that can explain how we can fix this province, even as K. Wynne drags us further into the mire.

 

 

 

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