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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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Playing the Lottery in Ontario

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Ontario Lottery Corporation Hopes you Lose.

I will never win the lottery and I don’t know anyone who has.

Along with half the adult population of Ontario I still buy tickets. Like the smoker who ‘quits’ every time they butt out the last cigarette I’ve tried to quit. I go a few days before the nagging sensation takes over and back I go.

We all know the odds are stacked against us but average humans don’t internalise big numbers. Saying the odds against picking six winning numbers out of forty-nine are 13,983,816:1 is no more impressive than saying the Ontario government is over $299 billion in debt.

To guarantee a 6/49 jackpot we can buy 13,983,816 tickets at a cost $41,951,448…or just one. Since millions of people are playing, it’s possible someone will just trip over the magic number.

Casual ticket buyers seem to share a few common thoughts: I’m not going to miss $3 so why not throw it in the pot? After all somebody has to win and you can’t win if you don’t play right?

These are true in a factual sense although unhelpful to the individual player. I recently looked over LottoMax, 6/49, Ontario 49 and Lottario and noticed no-one had won the first or second prizes. Inevitably though jackpots are awarded.

With this in mind we ignore the common refrain that lotteries are a “tax on the stupid”. Smarter people than me throw in a few bucks every week without effecting their fiscal profile. An Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (hereinafter referred to ‘lovingly’ as OLG), and Statistics Canada study of the demographics of lottery players discovered that people with higher education and incomes spend more money than lower income Canadians. It’s not a surprise that those who can do so will buy a lottery ticket over a box of Kraft Dinner but clearly it doesn’t involve a higher level of rationalisation.

In Ontario OLG is so concerned for our mental state that they have prepared a full-colour brochure entitled “Know the Facts”. Fact One is apparently this: “Lotteries are entertainment, not a way to make money”.

I’ve played the lotteries for some forty years so, yeah, this seems pretty obvious. Mind you it only applies to those of us who forego the odd Kraft Dinner for that 14 million to one shot. OLG of course makes a lot of money, some $6.6 billion per year, and shares those profits with the people of Ontario by providing the government with $2 billion. I’m sure our wildly indebted government appreciates the largesse.

I’ll keep buying tickets, and I’ll post observations and other data on lotteries in the coming weeks. We have all chosen to infect ourselves with the lottery bug so we should keep things light-hearted.

Favorite lottery joke: Wife: “Pack your things I’ve won the lottery!” Husband: “Great! Should I pack for the mountains or the beach?” Wife: “I don’t care just get out!”

 

 

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