If you’ve ever played a lottery, you must have wondered if there is a sure way to win one. The lottery is one of the most popular ways to make bets in the world. The tickets are usually very cheap while the prize can be humongous.
Every time a person buys a lottery ticket, he or she dreams about what it would be like to win the top prize. However, only a small number of players’ dreams come true. To say more, about $800 million of lottery prizes are unclaimed in the USA each year.
In order to understand if you can do something to win the lottery, you need to find out how it works. Usually, you have to choose 6 winning numbers from 1 to, let’s say 70. Then balls numbered 1 through 70 are placed into a machine, where they are mixed. After a while, 6 balls are randomly selected and we get the winning numbers. What is the chance of winning such a lottery? The question is hard to answer if you don’t know some math basics.
Lottery and Math: Basics
Let’s start at the beginning. Imagine we have a 5-ball lottery and we need to pick 2 correct numbers to win. We can make several bets:
- (1) (2)
- (1) (3)
- (1) (4)
- (1) (5)
- (2) (3)
- (2) (4)
- (2) (5)
- (3) (4)
- (3) (5)
- (4) (5)
In total, we have 10 ways to make bets in our 5-ball lottery. Obviously, choosing (1) (2) is the same as choosing (2) (1), so we don’t make a new column. The total is 10. So what do we do to win this lottery? Buy 10 tickets and fill out all 10 possible options. Then our chances of winning are 100%.
Is It That Easy, Really?
When it comes to two balls out of 5, it takes two minutes to calculate the possible winning combinations and 5 minutes to buy and fill out the tickets. When you are thinking about 6 numbers out of 70, the situation is very different. It will take you quite a long time to calculate the combos by hand. Thankfully, we have a computer. It can give us all the possible combinations.
The formula for calculating the number of tickets you need to buy for the abovementioned lottery is quite complicated. X!/ (X-Z)!Z! = W
- X – Total number of balls in the lottery
- Z – Number of balls needed for a combination
- W – Number of winning combinations
So by using the scientific calculator, we get 70!/(70-6)!6!= 131,115,985. Accordingly, you would need to buy 131,115,985 tickets to make sure you have the winning combination among them. If each ticket is $2, then you’d need to spend $262,231,970, which is unreasonable since the prize is much smaller.
Besides the cost, a few other problems come with buying such a huge number of tickets.
- Tickets are distributed among lotto kiosks and other ticket-selling shops. You’ll never find one place that can sell you 131 million tickets. You’d need to travel the country to collect the necessary number of tickets.
- When you buy 131 million tickets, you need to fill them out. Imagine how long it will take to do it. If it takes you 30 seconds to fill out a ticket, it will take about 66 million minutes to fill them all out. 66 million minutes is over 120 years. Therefore, it will take you more than a century to fill out the tickets, providing you do the filling 24 hours a day instead of working, eating, and sleeping.
- In case one more person manages to hit the winning combination, we’d need to share the prize money with him or her, making our crazy endeavor even more useless.
How Can You Win?
When it comes to mathematics, the only way to win for sure is to do the impossible. However, many people manage to win a lottery without buying millions of tickets and spending centuries filling them out.
Lottery players have all types of interesting strategies. They carefully study the data, such as accurate information about Mega Millions past results. And choose the numbers, which weren’t chosen before.
Others use lucky numbers or birthdays of famous people. Many players take advantage of random number generators. Others just pray.
Thankfully, you don’t need to guess all the numbers in order to win a lottery. In most cases, a couple is enough. Of course, you won’t hit the jackpot but you can still earn a substantial amount of money.
Why So Unfair?
Lotteries, just as other gambling options, are never fair. The casinos always win and so do the lottery organizers. They need to make a profit so they organize the game according to their wishes. Let’s say we are playing our 5-ball lottery. Twenty people purchase $2 tickets. Which means that the prize pool should be $40, right? Wrong! The organizers take a substantial fee, making the prize pool about $30. If no one wins, they take another fee and add the prize pool to the next draw.
Nowadays, the new decentralized blockchain lotteries allow you to eliminate the third party factor and add transparency to the draw process. Perhaps, such lotteries are about to change the gambling traditions.
When you need to rely on luck to win something, it’s called gambling. In most cases, such gambling is unfair to the player. Remember, the only real way to increase your chances of winning a lottery is to buy more tickets.