The Debate: The more you play the Lottery the more likely you are to lose
Buying more lottery tickets is a sure-fire way of losing more money, and philosophically speaking, it doesn’t even increase your chances of winning. Think of it this way. If you have two tickets in your hand, which one is more likely to win? Neither, right? They both stand the same chance. And just because you […]
Buying more lottery tickets is a sure-fire way of losing more money, and philosophically speaking, it doesn’t even increase your chances of winning.
Think of it this way. If you have two tickets in your hand, which one is more likely to win? Neither, right? They both stand the same chance. And just because you have two tickets in your hand it doesn’t increase the likelihood that one of them will win, it just means you paid out (or lost) twice as much.
Yet conventional wisdom dictates that whenever a jackpot swells above a certain life-changing amount we should increase the number of tickets we buy in order to be in with a better chance of winning. Office whip-arounds are set up, syndications are born, and we all take turns to sneak out of the office and buy five times as many tickets as we would do on any other occasion.
And with jackpots becoming increasingly monstrous the instances of this happening appear to be going up. According to one news report high-earners in Canary Wharf have taken to bulk-buying lottery tickets whenever the jackpot gets above £70m to £80m in the EuroMillions, with local shops forced to take on extra staff to cover the surge in demand. Peter Wagg, owner of the News of the Wharf store, told the Financial Times that one City worker bought £15,000 worth of “lucky dips” tickets on one occasion and paid in bundles of £50 notes. No news of a jackpot winner was reported in the area after the draw.
Surprising, you may think, yet had the same man stood outside the shop and flipped a coin 15,000 times would you expect the fact that he is tossing it so many times to alter the result? Of course not, but that is the very reason people crowd around roulette tables at a weekend convincing themselves that after landing on black five times the ball must surely now land on red. It might, it might not. It has a 50/50 chance. And that doesn’t alter whether it is the first spin or the 5,000 th .
As anyone who has ever set foot into a philosophy class will know, the probability of something occurring does not increase as you use it. The mathematicians will no doubt scoff, but there is reason to believe that. My brother put it to me recently that he doesn’t know anyone who has won the lottery, nor does he know anyone who knows anyone, but he still chips in for his work’s syndicate, which flies in the face of his realisation that more does not necessarily equal more likely. So why do we do it?
Well, there are some grounds to believe that your odds of winning go up the more tickets you buy, but you should be careful which theory to believe. For example, the notion that if you buy one ticket you have a 1 in 45,057,474 chance of winning and if you buy two tickets you have a 2 in 45,057,474 chance of winning is just crude mathematics, because if two variables are independent you can’t sum the probability. Math that can be used to determine your odds of winning a raffle (where all prizes must go) can not be used to determine your odds of winning the lottery (where there does not have to be a winner).
The London Economic | The Debate: The more you play the Lottery the more likely you are to lose | Opinion
As the Powerball jackpot tips over $600 million, let’s remember the time Fox News gave the worst lottery advice ever
The best piece of financial advice for playing the lottery is probably to not play the lottery, but in 2016, Fox News offered a very questionable suggestion for would-be gamblers.
Early that year, the Powerball lottery hit a jackpot of over a billion dollars for the first time. Amid the media mania surrounding the massive prize, liberal media-watchdog group Media Matters tweeted a screenshot from a “Fox and Friends” segment advising a simple strategy for maximizing your chances of winning the lottery: Buy as many tickets as you can afford.
This is technically true. Buying more lottery tickets does increase your chances of winning the lottery. In Powerball, there are 292,201,338 possible tickets. Buy one ticket, and you have a one in 292,201,338 chance of winning the jackpot. Buy two tickets, you have a two in 292,201,338 chance. And so on.
Even though buying more tickets technically increases your chances of winning, buying as many tickets as you can is probably a really bad idea.
The first problem is that your likelihood of winning is still incredibly low, even if you buy a bunch of tickets. Your odds of being struck by lightning in the next year are about 120 times higher than a two in 292,201,338 chance. Buying 10 tickets and giving yourself a 10 in 292,201,338 chance still leaves you about six times as likely to die in a plane crash as you are to win Powerball.
An even bigger problem is that this is a monumentally terrible idea from a financial perspective. Assuming you take the lump sum, which you likely should, and factoring in taxes, each one of those tickets has a negative expected value, meaning that each lottery ticket represents a likely loss of money. Buying more tickets, then, just increases the amount of money you’re likely to lose.
Buying a ton of lottery tickets, while making your chances of winning the jackpot marginally better, is a terrible “strategy.”
According to Media Matters, Fox News suggested that one should buy as many lottery tickets as one can afford. This is probably a bad idea.