Lotto by the numbers

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By Giovanni Tapang, Ph.D.

The pot for the Grandlotto 6/55 prize remained elusive as of last Monday’s draw. It has risen already to around P574 million last time and would likely breach 600 million. The large pot is a big payoff for the stream of bettors that line up the Lotto outlets everyday. Their dream is to get this prize for just P20 per combination.
Yet the odds are stacked against these bettors. First, the number of combinations is very large. In this lotto game, a bettor picks six different numbers from 1 to 55. Considering six unique numbers (no repeating picks) and in no particular order we have a staggering possible choices of 28,989,675 (28.99 million for short). This is different from the permutation of these numbers in which the order of numbers is vital (this runs up to 20.8 billion).

According to the PCSO, 8 million bettors have put in P267 million in the previous draws. At P20 per sale, this would amount to around 13.35 million bets. The number combinations that the 8 million have would (most probably) be overlapping. This is much less than the 29 million combinations that are possible. This discrepancy is why up until Monday, no one has picked the lucky winning combination.

Of course, the payoff is not simply just the jackpot. One would have to consider that you will win P150 for three correct numbers. For four correct numbers, you have 2,000. For five, it baloons to P150,000. For these winning combinations, one already gets a gain. For some, this gain is enough to call it a win.

Humans generally are poor at generating random quantities such as random number combinations. We usually find patterns and correspondingly choose combinations that match our day-to-day experiences. Familiar is the choice based on birthdays. Numbers less than 12 are frequently chosen based on the month. Numbers less than 31 are chosen based on the date. Since most of us were born after the 1930s, it is rare to use the birth year in the number combinations. One also do not usually encounter large numbers (near 55) in everyday life. We usually use our fingers for ordinary counting and this restricts our choices.

For some, the number combination 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 will not win but it is an equally likely combination as any other but people avoid this and similar combinations. So how do we pick correct combinations? One way to actually get to pick the other combinations outside birthdays and other common strategies, one can go to sites like www.random.org to get random numbers or engage in using the Lucky Pick or system plays in the Lotto game.

Other strategies like pooling one’s money with others to bet on more combinations or to play a system bet. Some lotto winners in other countries have used this strategy. However, problems that one would encounter in such a situation is that you would be “sharing” your winnings with others, the number of which you have no control of. This dilution of your reward might even bring you to a point where the P150,000 in a 5 number pick would be a better choice.

The other lotto games such as the 6/42 Lotto has only 5.25 million distinct six-number combinations from 42 numbers which is lower than the 6/55. For the 6/45 Lotto, the number of possible combinations is around 8.15 million. For the 6/49, the number rises to 13.98 million. The 6/55 has more than doubled this number thus making getting the prize money for the game much harder to get at 28.99 million.

Despite the odds, we still see the long lines at the Lotto outlets. This is because the pot has already risen to more than half a billion pesos. Yet this high risk, high payout game makes many a loser. Some play the lotto out of desperation rather than entertainment. This is where it becomes dangerous—when people think that lotto games would bring them out of misery. Using that final P20 to bet on what is essentially a losing game is not a good way to go.

Playing games based on chance will not guarantee your success by definition. For the majority of us who can only dream of such a large amount of money, the best way to go is to depend on a steady income from a steady job. Perhaps the long lines for the lotto is reflective of a bigger problem much larger than playing games of chance. It reflects the lack of jobs and thus security for most of us. This situation makes lotto games enticing for some. Government must instead ensure that there are jobs for all to go through the requirements of life and not make us play life through chance.

Dr. Tapang is the chairman of AGHAM-Advocates of Science and Technology for the People.

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