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Closing the Books

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In the western hemisphere we have created many arbitrary and artificial ways for breaking up our passing days.

January 1st defines a “new year”. Mondays tend to be the beginning of the work week.September marks back-to-school and throughout the year we assign special significance to the odd Monday or Friday so most workers can enjoy a long week-end.

On this August 1st 2016 in Ottawa we celebrate Colonel By Day in commemoration of the efforts of a 19th century English officer to create a waterway from present-day Ottawa to Kingston Ontario.

It’s also the day I close the books on July and see if I’ve experienced any better luck at this lottery game than I did the month before, (after a review of June’s record I determined I “invested” $112 and enjoyed a return of $57).

Perhaps I should have taken a hint after dipping into the red on June 14th that this was not going to be a lucrative summer. Two more weeks of occasional purchases saw no more wins at all.

July started badly and never rose above even. I tried eight different types of instant tickets from $2 to $10 and took a couple wild swings at Lottario, 6/49 and Ontario 49 but mostly ended up ‘supporting-local-hospitals’.

My score looks like the US Dream Team vs. Botswana: $140-$69.

Logic would suggest I find a different hobby but Lottery Fever is a disease of the brain that affects the victim’s ability to reason or calculate. All the marketing and psychological influences that drive a person to think they can pick a winner are immune from reality’s bitter tonic.

I wonder though if tracking the losses doesn’t actually stimulate the “near-miss effect”; the irrational belief that our pay-off is just one more ticket away. The forlorn pile of dud tickets is perversely encouraging because it suggests I have paid my dues and am bound to reverse my fortunes. Unfortunately, none of the tickets in the pile ‘talk’ to any other tickets and transmit the inevitability of any sort of redemption.

Millions of tickets are printed with no intention of providing any return. I am not alone in being able to pick many of these out. Of course the odds favour buying duds for all of us.

On the draw lotteries Lotto Max continues to defy punters who are seeking its now $60 million plus jackpot. Among the eleven supplementary “Max Millions” only a single ticket defied the odds of 28,633,528:1.

Nobody won 6/49’s $7 million jackpot and tickets that beat odds on the second prize (2,330,636:1) received a welcomed, but miserly, $30,949.20 each.

No-one cracked the jackpot for Lottario although there was a winner of Ontario 49’s $2 million prize.

I offer sincere congratulations and best wishes to that person or group. I hope they are suitably grateful and understand how incredibly lucky they are.

For the rest of us, August is a new month…with our old nemesis!

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The Magic of Make-Believe

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Psychologists believe they understand why people continue to pursue the fantasy of a lottery win but most of their theories are somewhat dismissive of their subject’s intellectual capabilities. Probably because they begin by believing we’re just a bag of chemicals.

No doubt the impulse to gamble does boil down to a few basic features of human nature with only a few variations on what we plan to do with the money…some day.

A recent article in Business Insider (January 13, 2016)provides three reasons from Dr. Robert Williams of the University of Lethbridge AB. Apparently we are driven to buy that next lottery ticket by the “near miss” effect. We see our numbers come close and believe another crack at it will finally produce the real winner.

No doubt this is why instant tickets have an annoying habit of showing two symbols in a row when we need three or provide the numbers all around the one we need to win. But more on marketing later.

Dr. Williams also points out that humans spend their waking hours dealing with time scales of hours, distances of miles or kilometres and volumes you can fit in the back of your car. When it comes to billions of years or millions of cubic metres the scale just becomes irrelevant. When we told to consider odds of 1,000,000:1 it just seems irrelevant and hardly different from 1,000:1. Especially if you’re just focused on the one winner.

Williams also describes the “availability bias” as our fixation on the hopeful and exciting example of the winners we’ve seen. The warm-and-fuzzy feeling allows us to ignore the millions of ticket buyers (including ourselves!) who go away empty handed week after week. The knowledge that somebody like ourselves has won suggests that our turn is coming up!

Psychology Today adds a few more influences on our lottery habit. Plunking down a few bucks is “easy to justify” because the money would get spent anyway and why not give it a ride on a wild chance?

Tracking the amount I’ve wasted is a little more sobering ($107 in June with $57 in “winnings”), but not enough to dissuade me. Only if we were able to gather the thousands of dollars over the years and put it in one pile would we reconsider risking it on lotteries.

There is, of course, our playful penchant for believing in lucky objects or routines. “Superstitious thinking” convinces us that repeating the same behaviour that supposedly led to some small success will somehow uncover the Big Win. Not only do I buy tickets at the same stores, but when they (inevitably) fail to deliver my fortune, I kinda-sorta believe that switching to a new location will break the mojo! As I point out elsewhere; there are millions of useless tickets and the odds are very good we will purchase them often!

Finally, there is the “social trap”. We’ve invested in the scheme so far and expect a turn-around any day now. But what if we don’t buy a ticket? What if we had some numbers in mind for a draw but fail to play them and…..

(On AMC’s fantastic show Mad Men, Don Draper once explained to Peggy that sex doesn’t sell, fear does. Oh yeah!).

I find it amusing that these ideas go through my mind and I know them to be ridiculous and STILL can’t shake them completely. OLG and other state/provincial lottery providers know these tricks very well. Despite their monopoly they do not skimp on multi-million dollar advertising campaigns.

How do you feel when the stupid…uh, I mean happy couple are flitting from one ecstatic adventure after another as their “Cash for Life” ticket enables them to exploit $1,000 a week “for life!”? So far seven winners out of ten are jet-skiing somewhere but since there were fewer than 4 million prizes to start with and 15.3 million tickets printed no amount of advertising should convince you the last three jackpots are within your grasp.

Likewise the Lotto 6/49 TV spots not only fill us with the message that we can be masters in our own universe but we can help Grandma with the family farm and have a family reunion to boot. Forget the fact that literally millions of us have to pay one way into the lottery abyss so one or two people can inhabit the winner’s circle. It’s just the nature of the beast and we all accept that.

On June 16, 2016 the Ottawa Citizen had an editorial decrying the suggestion by OLG that they needed to do more to suck young people into lottery hell. The paper had a problem believing that the same government that hides cigarettes and porno magazines behind plastic screens would be OK with “endorsing a more targeted sell of gaming to those who are just starting their wage-earning years.”

Maybe it’s not such a stretch. As it is, ‘lottery fever’ is the only disease your government wants you to catch. Might as well go full-zombie-apocalypse on it!

 

 

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On the Hunt

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I was in an On the Run convenience store (attached to Esso gas stations) recently and was treated to a rare symphony of OLG’s signature cheery music signifying a winning ticket was being processed.

In this case it was apparently one of those lottery ‘professionals’ with a fistful of winners because the chimes were pealing repeatedly and his business was diverting the rest of us to the second cash so we could satisfy our own lottery urge.

I wanted to ask the gentleman what his technique was but the store was busy and his ticket haul didn’t stop before I had to go on my merry way. If his lottery winning strategy was anything like what I’ve seen from other individuals, it probably consisted of spending hundreds of dollars per week and enjoying modest success in bunches. I mean really, if he was a millionaire (or even a ‘hundred-thousandaire’) would he be standing in line at an On the Run convenience store to show off his fabulous wealth?

I’ve started tracking my winnings and losings since I cooked up the idea for this blog and noted the stores I use as well. My old Mac’s and Quickie’s locations seem to have gone cold and, on a whim, I veered off into gas station territory to see if it would change my luck.

On the Run has been the only store recently to offer me any prizes but of course they continue to be mostly of the “free ticket” variety. (Either literally, in the case of a 6/49 ticket, or virtually in the case of $2-$5 tickets that return you $2-$5. What else do you do with a $5 winner but trade it in for another, inevitably unsuccessful, ticket of the same denomination?).

Unlike real estate, lottery tickets do not increase in value with location. Scattered among Ontario’s 9700 retail outlets, millions of useless instant tickets lie in heaps waiting for us to toss loose change or small bills at an infinitesimal chance of multiplying our money. With draw-based lotteries (e.g. 6/49) we actually generate the useless tickets with quick picks or inspired selections but the results are the same. It matters not one whit what machine we use.

Somewhat ironically, it turns out On the Run is owned by the same company that owns Mac’s Milk stores. Canada’s own Alimentation Couche-Tard, the world’s second largest operator of convenience stores, purchased the On the Run brand from ExxonMobil in 2009. Since Quickies Convenience Stores are an Ottawa-based chain we Ontarians should be truly proud our lottery dollars are circulating right here at home!

Circulating, flushing, same thing. In June I spent $107 and generated $57 in winnings.So far in July I am ahead of that pace and doing worse on the ‘up-side’.

I have no intention of going professional and wasting thousands of dollars on tickets but on the other hand, like millions of my fellow sufferers, I can’t imagine I’ll quit contributing to the greater good any time soon!

 

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Winning the Lottery, Part Two: Scratching the Surface

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I’m not a big fan of casinos because my money seems to disappear in a frightful hurry.

If you’re smart you only carry a finite amount to lose anyway, but given the glitz and glamour lavished on many casinos it seems a shame to burn through forty of fifty bucks and then stand there in the chiming, dinging, coin-clattering cacophony of the casino and be done for the evening.

Most people who win any money typically give it back the the house before they leave. It’s the business of gambling and most find it entertaining.

A more solitary way to give money to the house, (in Ontario’s case to pump money into our debt-blasted government), is the ‘scratch’ or instant ticket. It involves only the customer and a local retailer but many, myself included, consider it entertainment enough if you don’t take it too seriously.

Leaving aside the fact that your local corner store also uses certain psychological techniques to separate you from your money, (those chocolate bars are not beside the cash by accident!), the ambiance of buying a loaf of bread and a lottery ticket lacks the romance of the casino but it’s probably cheaper.

According to OLG’s Lottery Player Demographic Fact Sheet 45% of Ontario adults have bought a ticket “at least once in the past 2 months.” With a population of 13.9 million and approximately 85% aged 18 and over that makes 11.8 million “current lottery players”. About 48% buy only Lotto 6/49 or other “draw-based” games. Another 46% of us buy into draws and instant games and a few concentrate on sports pools.

With twenty seven different instant games available at present there seems to be a wide range of entertainments to choose from. One could spend from $1.00 (Bacon Bucks and Donut Dollars) to $30.00 ($250 Million Golden Treasures) but generally the types of games are limited. Most games either match “lucky” numbers or call for three of a kind dollar amounts or symbols in each game. There are actual bingo games, (not surprisingly called Bingo), or, as in Cash Card (a $3.00 ticket with a $75,000.00 jackpot) the player tries to uncover lines of playing cards vertically, horizontally or diagonally to win.

I go into more detail above (see “Instant Ticket Facts”), but I do want to point out some important details here.

Is there any way to improve your odds of winning anything with an instant ticket?

No.

Okay, with that out of the way, there is some information a player should be aware of before plucking the inevitable losing ticket out of the tray, (and God-forbid the clerk should do it! I hate that but also know that they aren’t going to be any luckier/unluckier than I am).

The links provided direct you to OLG’s own “Player’s Guide Fact Sheet”. There is one for every game and it provides some sobering facts.

Take the $1.00 Bacon Bucks game. The jackpot is potentially $10,000.00 and though there are six of them the odds are 506,667:1. There are 759,484 prizes in total but fully 99% are $5.00 or less. Of more than 3 million tickets printed over 2.2 million ‘duds’ won’t even return your one dollar ‘investment’.

Likewise Donut Dollars offers over 2.3 million dud tickets but at least it’s new and five $10,000 jackpots are available, (at 612,000:1 odds!).

At the other end of the scale is the majestic “$250 Million Golden Treasures” ticket. In order for me to risk $30.00 on one of these I would have to win a lottery first!

The prize structure suggests you almost can’t miss, but there has to be a lot of people left holding a useless $30.00 piece of cardboard for the whole scheme to work so beware. There are 3,479,878 prizes available and none less than $30.00 but that’s based on 12,360,000 tickets. (7,725,000 of them in Ontario; the remainder in the western provinces). Since we can assume the prize distribution randomly follows the ticket distribution, something over 5 million tickets will come up with a big fat ‘zero’ in Ontario alone.

Finally, every instant ticket player should check the following link before heading to their favourite retailer. Once again our good friends at OLG supply us with everything we need. On their website they have an Instant Unclaimed Prize Information page that is updated daily, (or weekly in the case of the more expensive, inter-provincial tickets).

You can see here, for instance, that there are no more jackpots available for the $2.00 AMC Walking Dead tickets. (Sure, your odds of winning one were 612,000:1 but you had to dream right?). Based on this page you can at least avoid buying tickets that don’t offer even a chance of a particular prize…unlike the rest of the tickets that offer barely a chance!

As always, there’s an app for that. You can check out ScratchOdds.com to keep track of the same thing. It can’t tell you where the winners are either, but you can check the status of remaining jackpots while standing in line with a loaf of bread.

 

 

 

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Winning the Lottery: Luck of the Draw

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Only Luck can Beat the Odds in a Lottery Draw

Many lottery players would like to believe there is a system to beat the odds in the 6/49 or Lotto Max lottery. Numerous websites claim enough of the right analysis can winkle out “hot” numbers or identifiable trends from the weekly draw. Even OLG provides historical information in its left hand menu.

Unfortunately, as statisticians like to say, this is all ‘noise’. No relationship exists between any two numbers in one draw nor any number from last week, last month, or in any month to come. In the quantum mechanics of lottery numbers: a number will come up…or it won’t. That’s my prediction and I’m sticking to it!

Draw-lotteries like Poker Lotto or Megadice Lotto use a computer program, but the rest use a mechanical drum containing a specific number of balls. Lotto Max, 6/49 and Ontario 49 use forty-nine balls while Lottario picks from forty-five. The balls are carefully weighed, formed and balanced to produce no identifiable bias. During the draw, the balls tumble and careen like electrons until one is spit out and its number is recorded. The machine does not care if the number is odd or even, high or low, or corresponds to the square root of your mother-in-law’s birthday. The machine does not have any regard for whether that particular ball has been used in the last draw or has bounced around its innards for months. It’s random and mindless. Full Stop.

And yet…We are human and we seek patterns in everyday occurrences and objects. The Universe would speak to us if only we understood the language.

Several times over the years I’ve graphed the previous draws of various lotteries in an attempt to discover a pattern. When you put the six winning numbers on line after line it seems that some numbers ‘group’ together; or relate somehow. Numbers pair off or mysteriously come up in sequences of three. Gaps open up in some ‘decades’ for weeks at a time, (e.g. there are no or few 30’s or 20’s). Does this tell us anything?

No.

Like a stock market chart that may experience a drop or rise in the next instant, the lottery number just appears independently of anything else. Unlike the stock market, no amount of information gathered can even suggest to the player what to buy or when.

The alternative is to buy everything. As previously discussed you could purchase every possible 6/49 ticket for a mere $41.9 million. (Ontario 49 costs only $13.9 million but top prize is always $2 million so not a good bet!).

There is a method for playing twelve numbers at a time that involves all 49 numbers. Often referred to as “wheeling” it involves arranging your twelve choices into groups of three labelled A,B,C and D. You then create sets of six numbers by pairing A+B, A+C and A+D. Then B+C and B+D and finally C+D. Now you buy six tickets with your twelve numbers as efficiently jumbled together as they can be. ($18 for 6/49 or $6 for Ontario 49).

It would further seem that if one picked twelve numbers four times one could use forty-eight of the forty-nine numbers in question, (or, to be even safer, use a fifth ‘wheel’ to get all the numbers and a few extras besides!). For as little as $72 it appears we have all the numbers and can’t miss!

Well, yes you can. Since you are randomly arranging your choices within your wheel (even if you do them in sequence), or across all the wheels, there is no guarantee you will come up with a combination of the six you need for a jackpot. Your odds are still extraordinarily long that you will accidentally put four or five numbers together. Likely, you will see the six winning numbers tumble through your selections without ever grouping together in any useful combination. Mind you, you can get lucky. Which is what you need to be even if you spend only $3.

Now before spending $72, (and some folks do that anyway!), one could take a practice run at it and simply do it on paper. Problem is, what if that one worked (and you don’t get the jackpot) and the next one didn’t, (and you don’t get the jackpot)?

 

 

 

 

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