Unlikely jackpot? Probability guarantees nothing
Question: Every so often we hear about someone winning the lottery or hitting the grand prize on a progressive slot machine, but these odds are astronomical! How is it that someone, somewhere, always seems to be able to get lucky and beat the astronomical odds? What I'm trying to get at is that these odds are astronomical, and hence, the jackpot shouldn't be hit, but that doesn't seem to be the case. Johnson T.
Answer: Any jackpot that has a probability of hitting, like, for instance, a Powerball ticket or a progressive slot machine, ought to eventually pay off if it is played long enough. When given a set of possibilities and enough trails, a favorable outcome should occur for some lucky bloke.
That said, there are times that I am not entirely convinced that every gambling probability will come to fruition over time. One such surety unrealized is the a special bonus keno ticket that many casinos offer. All you have to do is hit 19 out of 20, and you win $250,000.
Sounds easy, right? Well, here is where I am going to need some convincing that this is even a possibility. Here’s the arithmetic: If you were to play one keno ticket per second, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, according to laws of probability, you would catch 19 out of 20 once every 93,420,116 years. Oh, and the odds of hitting it? Drum roll please – two quadrillion, 946 trillion, 096 billion, 780 million to one.
Another is this popular ticket in Nevada – the 15 spot. The chances of your hitting it are 428 billion to one. Consider, Johnson, that no person has ever hit a solid 15 spot, a solid 14 spot, and to the best of my knowledge, a 13 out of 13 since gambling became legal in Nevada in 1931. Makes you sort of wonder why it’s popular, doesn’t it!
So, should you even be playing? As long as you realize that hitting “the big one” is a never-in-your-lifetime probability, I am not opposed to dabbling a few – I mean a few – disposable dollars’ worth of Lottery Quick Picks for a shot at a once-in-a-lifetime possibility.
However, limit those few-and-far-between dollars to when the jackpot exceeds the true odds of hitting it. With Mega Millions, that number is one in 258,890,850, which is an easier catch than the Powerball game at 292,201,338 to one.
With jackpots in the millions, I can see how easy it is for players to inhale jackpot helium. But you need to ask yourself, are the spoils worth the cost of the hunt?
Then again, even if your chances of hitting the big one are a teensy weensy bit better than zilch, you cannot beat those cosmological odds if you don’t play.
Gambling Wisdom of the Week: “Adventure upon all the tickets in the lottery, and you lose for certain; and the greater the number of your tickets the nearer you approach to this certainty.” – Adam Smith
Mark Pilarski is a nationally syndicated gaming writer. Visit him online at www.markpilarski.com or follow him on Twitter @MarkPilarski.