Lottery odds: To win, you’d have to be a loser


Just how much do you have to spend to get lucky?

The answer: a lot.

That’s the question The Palm Beach Post posed to two mathematicians and a statistician after identifying extraordinary Florida Lottery winners.

Skip Garibaldi, a professor at Emory University and associate director of the Institute for Pure and Applied Mathematics at UCLA, analyzed the top 10 most prolific winners found by The Post.

Jeffrey Rosenthal, a University of Toronto professor and the author of Struck By Lightning: The Curious World of Probabilities, looked at four. He was instrumental in uncovering clerks winning too often in Ontario.

They took different paths to reach their conclusions, both using some pretty complicated math. They looked at each of the winners’ tickets, the odds of winning that ticket and how much it costs to buy one ticket.

In the end, they arrived at the same conclusion: Except for one case, it’s probably not going to happen.

Rosenthal looked at how many tickets someone would have to buy to match the winnings of the top four winners.

He found they would have to buy between 630 and 1,050 tickets every day during their respective winning periods to merely have a 1 percent chance of winning so often.

His conclusion: Even if somebody wanted to buy so many tickets, itself a Herculean feat, they still wouldn’t win as often as they did.

Garibaldi calculated the absolute minimum the top 10 winners would have to spend to have even a minuscule chance of winning so often — a 1-in-20-trillion chance, the same chance as choosing one star out of 50 Milky Way-sized galaxies, then having your friend pick the same star.

Garibaldi wouldn’t go as far as to call it impossible. He put it this way:

“It’s possible, it’s just utterly implausible,” he said. “Quantum mechanics tells us all sorts of insane, unimaginable things could happen. Your desk could suddenly turn into a talking goose. There’s a calculable probability that that could happen. But it’s never going to happen.”

He consulted with Philip B. Stark, professor and chairman of the Department of Statistics at the University of California, Berkeley.

Assuming the winners invested every penny of their wins into buying more tickets, nine of the 10 would have lost a minimum of between $200,000 and $2.4 million, depending on the winner.

That’s right — assuming they played the game like everyone else, they all would have been big losers.

“Some of the gamblers definitely appear to have won too many times … unless they have some tremendous bankroll that could fund so much playing,” Garibaldi said. “Maybe their dad has the copyright on ‘Happy Birthday’ or something.”

One winner, a Miami woman, could have actually made money playing.

Garibaldi’s analysis was generous for the winners, too. He didn’t include their $1 and $2 scratch-off wins, most of which have very long odds.


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