‘You get your lotto ticket yet?’ ‘You can’t win if you don’t plaaaayyyyyyyyyyy’ I got this today from a pretty lady buying hers at a Mac’s store counter, along with her newspaper. Yeah…I know… You’re starting to know me a bit by now, I believe. You’ll know I can’t help myself but go off on a rant about this one. I wanted to explain a few things to her but decided to just stay quiet, smiled stupidly at her like I was passing up on a chance of a lifetime and got out of there, holding back my urges to speak. But now I’m here and I just want to say a few things about this lotto fetish and addiction we seem to have in Canada. I imagine that even if you explain the laws of probability to people, they’d still ignore it all and spend their hardearned bucks anyway. We’re a gambling society and can’t seem to help ourselves even if we may know better. We think we have a good chance of changing our lives with a ticket. After all, what’s wrong with tossing 2 bucks into the pool for a chance to win 28 million from it? Two bucks would hardly earn you anything if you invested it in a bank account and two bucks usually makes little difference to a person’s weekly spending. Yet the possibility, however remote, of winning real wealth provides its own outstanding ‘rateofinterest’ in dreams and hope. You’ll be able to say goodbye to working for a living, forever! Will you buy a great big, brand new house first or a brand new Hummer? Set your kids or siblings up in a house of their own or travel the world’s exotic places without a care in world? What’s ironic, if you learn about the lives of most of the people that have won the lottery in a big way, is that lotteries may actually do more for the people who don’t win than those who do. Let's talk about chance... Randomness and probability is the most pervasive force in the universe. Most of our existence is governed by it but humans are strange creatures. We always tend to seek out patterns or logic in the things we observe around us. We look up at a sky full of clouds and our minds soon start to form recognizable shapes within the randomness of the formations up there. We start to see the head of a man wearing a hat, or a big monkey chasing a ball, or a dolphin. This is a trait of humans that is inborn. That trait of seeking order within our environments, a world that is mostly disorderly, chaotic and random. Take the LincolnKennedy thing that most of us are familiar with. There is a series of things that are similar in Abraham Lincoln’s life when compared to that of John F. Kennedy’s. This famous list is impressively long enough to cause people to believe it is indeed a strange coincidence and something other than pure randomness must be at work here! Yet I find it equally as strange that we tend to ignore the even more impressively, much longer, list of things that aren’t similar at all between these two people. In fact, studies have been done using only random people, not famous or noteworthy in that fashion, and it was found that if enough questions were asked and enough details of their lives delved into, very commonly ‘strange’ lists of coincidences could be derived between these random people as well. Links to commonalties between them could be always found if you took enough time to investigate all aspects of their lives. You have to remember that Kennedy and Lincoln were born close to one hundred years apart and went into the same ‘line of work’ in the same geographic area of the world so date coincidences are apt to appear, as they do, being one hundred years apart from each other. I.e. Kennedy took office in 1960, Lincoln in 1860, etc. The timelines of their lives would have been on similar tangents to begin with. A young boy will grow up and become a ‘man’ at 18 years old, marry in his 20’s or 30’s, etc, on a similar timeline to others. The entire exercise is clever but hardly surprising. We read or hear a vague, generalized horoscope reading and soon transform the words to conform to patterns in our own lives thus validating them to ourselves. We go as far as being amazed at how accurate and appropriate the predictions seem to be. Yet we fail to recognize or remember that these same general outlines are also being applied as truth by other people born in the same month as us, all over the country, yielding the same unbelievable accuracy for them as well, even though their lives are so very different from our own. We look for and apply patterns instinctively, without thinking about it. Lotteries are only another forum in which people try to bring structure to a random process. In an effort to make it all appear more predictable or amenable to explanation, we invent personal theories and impose our own patterns on everyday random events. We can’t help but be predisposed to seeing order and meaning in a world that actually is only offering random choices and chaotic behavior. We might even have ‘lucky’ numbers. We claim they have been lucky for us in the past but choose to ignore the countless many times when they had absolutely no significance in our lives at all. We don’t tend to register or remember those times very well. We’ll, instead, use these ‘lucky’ numbers as one of our choices in our 6/49 ticket. Or we choose numbers from the birthdays of our kids or ourselves, anniversary dates of when we were married or divorced because our egos tell us they are significant in some way. We can’t imagine that something that happens to ourselves couldn’t be very important in the course of the history of the Universe. We look to dreams or astrology for inspiration or even things around us. A person might look at the serial number of the 5 dollar bill he’s using to purchase the ticket and convince himself that providence is telling him to use the numbers within it as choices for his ‘lucky’ ticket. What is a little bit interesting is that if you do indeed happen to win a prize, chances are you’ll be sharing or splitting the winnings with other people if you choose to use dates or lucky numbers as number choices in your ticket number selection. Most of the number selections on 6/49 tickets by the general public are within 31 or less (the numbers on a typical monthly calendar) because most of the people playing the game chose their numbers this way. Numbers including and between 32 to 49 aren’t picked as choices as often when people have the choice to pick their own numbers. Chances are if you pick these higher numbers and your ticket actually wins, you’ll probably get to keep most, or all of the winnings for yourself. It’s a little bit fun to stand beside someone filling out a ticket number selection card at one of those 6/49 counters. They’ll darken one number, then study the rest. Hover their pencil lead above the next choice then suddenly change their mind and chose a different one instead. Then struggle to chose a third one, hesitating and studying the choices, looking for significance, ‘feeling’ their thoughts for a clue on what ‘feels’ right at that particular second. Face it, we’ve all done it at one time or other. In reality, it doesn’t matter what number you choose. They ALL have exactly the same chance no matter what. In fact you could choose last week’s actual winning number if you wanted and it would have exactly the same chance as anything you could come up with this week. You could even choose 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and it has EXACTLY THE SAME chance of winning as 32, 24, 17, 41, 2, 38 even though our instincts tell us that the former is an unlikely winner. In fact there is no difference at all. To get some perspective on the odds of winning such things (in case you haven’t ever thought about it) allow me to explain things using something you probably commonly have around your house: The old ‘heads and tails’ thing. Interesting things happen from this point on. Suppose a ‘heads’ came up on this first flip. In fact, there is a chance that ‘heads’ can come up 8 times in a row before you’ll ever see a toss produce a ‘tails’. The odds of this happening start to get pretty high, but there is a chance none the less. But let’s make it simpler. Let’s take only 3 tosses in a row. What are the odds of ‘heads’ coming up each time in three consecutive tosses, specifically, three ‘heads’ in a row? Well, in the first toss we have a 1 out of 2 chance that it’ll be ‘heads’ of course. (You have only 2 possible outcomes, either ‘heads’ comes up or ‘tails’). In the second toss it starts all over again and you once again have only a possibility of either ‘heads’ or ‘tails’ coming up. But if you combine the two choices of this second toss with the two choices of the first toss you see you have 4 ways things could have gone. You could have had a ‘heads’ (we’ll call this H) come up or ‘tails’ (we’ll call this T) in the first flip and then on the second you could have had H or T as well. So the possible outcomes of 2 tosses could be HH, HT, TT or TH. You can see that 4 different combinations could have been realized from 2 separate tosses. Add a third toss and you can add on to the number of possible combinations by writing them all out: HHH, HHT, HTT, HTH, TTT, TTH, THH or THT. By writing down every combination you can think of, you arrive at 8 possible configurations of 3 tosses of a coin. As you can see by examining the results, 3 ‘heads’ in a row appears only once. So the odds of tossing a coin 3 times in a row and getting ‘heads’ each time is 1 out of 8. This is a tedious way to figure out the odds. Especially if things start to get more complicated. But you may have noticed another pattern. With one coin the chance was 1/2. With two coins it was 1/4. With three coins it was 1/8. Can you start to see the exponential increase in odds? As with most everything in nature, even the random probability of odds has a pattern to it. You can also describe this with math by writing ½ X ½ X ½ = 1/8 or by multiplying the chances in each event against itself, the number of times of the events, you can get the odds of that event occurring. So, now knowing this, the chances of getting 8 ‘heads’ in a row, like we alluded to in the paragraph up above, is simply ½ times itself 8 times or 1/256. You have 1 chance in 256 of getting eight ‘heads’ in a row. This means that if you sat by your picnic table and flipped a coin 8 times in a row, marked down what the results were of each toss and repeated this entire procedure 256 times, the odds are that at least once you will have flipped 8 ‘heads’ in a row in one of those series of 8 tosses. But remember one important thing! Just because the odds say there is a chance it could occur 1 time in 256 does not mean it actually will. Even though it is ‘likely’ to occur, it may also very well not. You could, of course, take this a step further and calculate the odds of certainly getting 8 ‘heads’ in a row in 256 tosses. This would yield a far greater number with even far less probability of occurring. It starts to bend your mind a little bit, after a while.
Yeah. Amazing.
Remember what the calculated odds were for getting your 8 ‘heads’ in a row and go out and actually carry out the exercise. Flip the coin, track the results, do the experiment. After a few hours of frustration, file away the results of your ‘real world’ experience and come back to this text for the next step in our adventure here. What I’d hope you come away with is a reallife feeling of just how tough, if not seemingly impossible, achieving the goal is. So let’s move on. Find another common thing in your house: There are 52 different cards in a deck.
Now envision any card you wish in your mind. The odds of you guessing the correct card were 1 in 52. In other words you had 1 chance in 52 possible different card choices to pick the exact same card from the deck that you were thinking about in your mind. This calculation of odds is common sense to almost anyone and is indeed accurate. In fact, if you replace this card, truly shuffle the deck so that it is mixed up very well, randomly once again, then repeat this exercise, you’ll probably see the card choice in your mind is once again incorrect compared with what turns up from the deck. But realize that the odds here are only 1/52 (1.9% chance of being successful). This is so much better than the 1/256 odds (.4% chance of success) of getting 8 ‘heads’ in a row, as stated up above. Yet a lot of us would think it more likely to flip 8 ‘heads’ in a row than pick the exact random card we are thinking of from a mixed up deck of cards. It is actually the opposite. We have a much better chance of guessing the right card. But let’s continue on a little further. Out of 52 cards, this time, let’s try to guess 2 random picks. Shuffle the deck over and over many times until it is hopelessly mixed up and think of 2 different cards. Now pick 2 at random from the deck. Did you guess right? What were the odds this time of getting it correct? Well to pick the first one you had 2 chances in 52 cards to get it right. Out of the 52 cards in the deck, 2 possible choices in there would equal at least 1 of the cards you were thinking about. The odds were 2/52. Now suppose you drew a card and it happened to be 1 of the 2 you thought about! Set this one aside. It’s now time to chose the 2^{nd} card and hope it too is correct. Because one card is now pulled from the deck you are left with only 51 possible choices for the next one. You have 1 chance in the remaining 51 cards to get it right. The odds for the second card are 1/51. Remember how earlier, with the coins, we simply multiplied the chances in each event against the number of times the events occurred to get the odds of that event actually occurring? This card scenario, mathematically, is no different and can be expressed as: By doing the simple math you arrive at the odds being 1/1326 (.08% chance of success) or 1 chance in 1326 to actually pick 2 previously thought of cards from a random deck of cards and get both correct. This means that if you did this exercise 1326 times in a row, the odds are that at least one time you will have correctly guessed 2 random choices from a deck of cards. But, once again, it could also turn out that you wouldn’t ever pick the correct 2 in 1326 tries, as well. This is because knowing the ‘odds’ of something does not guarantee it will occur in our universe, it only points to the likelihood it may. If we take this scenario one step further and assume using 3 cards instead of 2 we discover the odds of guessing them correctly jumps to 1 in 22,100 (.0045% chance of success). With 4 cards it leaps to 1 in 270,725 (.00036% chance of success). Sit in your chair, right now, with a deck of cards and on a sheet of paper write down 4 random card choices. Now pick 4 random cards from that deck and see if they equal yours. Do this a few times. I doubt you’ll get it right. I doubt you'll get it right even if you sit there and do it over and over again 100,000 times over the course of weeks. In fact, even if you don’t actually use cards, you probably know from experience how difficult it is guessing just 1 card in there let alone 3 or 4. That’s why we are so amused by magicians who produce such choices ‘magically’ with ease. We instinctively know the odds and it is a startling, giddy experience to see someone overcome such odds with such mystical ease and seeming power over the forces of nature. So take this deck of cards. Pull out the ace, king and queen of spades and throw them away, to one side. Forget about them. You are now left with a deck of 49 different cards. Sound familiar? 6/49 ring a bell? With a deck of 49 cards in your hand, envision 6 different cards (not counting the 3 spades you already discarded from the deck) and then proceed to pull these 6 from the deck, without looking, by randomly selecting six cards from the pack and placing them on the table. Did you get your guesses right? What were the odds you could have guessed correctly? 6/49 X 5/48 X 4/47 X 3/46 X 2/45 X 1/44 = odds of guessing correctly.
It’s no different than coin tosses.
Remember how hard it was to get 8 ‘heads’ in a row (odds of 1/256)? Or even to guess 1 card in a deck of 52 random ones (odds of 1/52)? Can you imagine how difficult guessing 6 random cards out of 49 would be considering the odds? Are you able to make that leap in proportionality in your head? This is exactly what you are up against when you play the lotto 6/49. So how come people seem to win the big one almost every week? This gets a little harder to picture but it is very logical and mathematically correct that someone probably should win. Have you ever wondered why the ‘6/49’ is six numbers out of fortynine and not 7 or 8 out of 49 or 4 out of 30 or something like that. It’s based simply on ticket sales and probability. The lottery commission people employed mathematicians and discovered the odds of selecting the 6/49 combination coincided nicely with the average volume of tickets purchased by the Canadian public, within a few tensofthousand either way, each week. If 14 million people each pick a different random number in a 1 in 14 million chance to guess the winning number correctly, naturally one ‘lucky’ person out there in Canada is bound to realize a match. Just the same as if a single person could purchase all 13,983,816 different number combinations. That person would probably win on one ticket. Hopefully the prize money was greater than their investment and they didn't have to split the winnings with any other parallel winners. There are times however, just as we’ve stated, that even though 14 million guesses are made, sometimes there is no match at all and no one wins. The winning number was simply not guessed but overlooked. This occurs regularly as well and is simply a bonus for the lottery people but isn’t a part of the advertisement campaigns.
If the volume of ticket sales ever decreased over the long term in our country, the lottery commission would no doubt have to change the 6 out of 49 number thing to something with better odds for the people. If they didn’t do so, the occurrence of winning would decrease due to lower ticket volume and cause disheartened sentiment among the masses still buying as less and less occurrences of winning naturally took place. The ticket price, volume of sales and laws of probability always ensure that the lottery people make a very substantial profit and at the same time satisfy the public’s need to ‘see’ constant winners so they don’t become discouraged and discontinue investing in a ‘dream’ and a ‘hope’. Here is a commodity that requires no actual product. You aren’t buying a potato or a car fender or an actual service even. You’re only buying a ‘dream’. You’re putting down your 2 bucks for something that might happen but probably won’t. Yet you hear of actual people winning so you believe it is likely you could too. Actually, it is much more likely that you NEVER really will. I hate to pop your bubble but... There is a very, very, very, very, very, very (did I put enough of them in there?) good chance that you will live out your entire life, playing the lotto 6/49 every single week of it and never, ever win the big one or even the closetobig ones, ever. The odds are more in favour of this by a long shot than the other way around. Awwwwww. What a spoil sport! What a ‘bad news bear’! And I suppose they're partially true or cute little sayings but it still feels a bit wrong to me, that’s all. The fact that my Government is so deeply involved in it all, especially from mostly one side, bothers me. They should be educating people of the real chances, not pushing the mostly unattainable riches. Those ads on TV and in the papers bug me. They turn us into a bunch of sheep or lemmings or something. They cause the 'stampede of greed', I call it. I turn on my television or read my newspaper and am confronted with these huge promotions and advertisements saying I should quickly jump from my chair, rush to the corner store and plunk my hard earned money down on a ‘chance’ to win the big one! These are ads directly from my Government, from the Lotto Corporation! They imply, almost condescendingly, all the previous winners couldn't have won had they not played. They imply a good chance of winning by joining the 'long line of winners'. They pressure me to join in, to be part of the crowd of hopes! Part of the 'in' crowd. They imply that if I don’t play I’ll be a ‘loser’ both figuratively and actually. But actually, as it turns out, I’ll most probably lose even if I do in fact play, but that isn’t stressed so much in the ads. This gives people false hope, I believe, and that isn't a moral thing to do to people who don't know any better. It's taking advantage of people through their emotions. Politicians make us believe they're giving us a fair chance for an incredible life by giving us the lottery but in fact I really believe its the other way around. *grin* A draw happens. We get 2 numbers right and think 'Man! Missed it by only 4 numbers!! So close! Oh well, try again next week.' And the politicians, way off in the corner, watching us check our ticket breathe a sigh of relief and quietly say to each other 'Whewwww!!... they still don't get it... RIGHT ON! Run another ad for next week!' Doesn't the fact that the Government puts forth ads offering a little help for chronic gamblers and alcoholics from the same source of income they've stock piled while benefitting from the addictions of these poor souls smack of hypocrisy to anyone? Anyone? Anyone? To me, this whole affair isn’t quite right, that's all. But wait!! Since it doesn't seem apt to change anyway, why doesn't the Government kick it up a notch? Why not get into prostitution in a big way? Government could own, regulate and sell prostitution so that the minds of people already tricked into thinking they have a good chance of money from the lotto could also be tricked into believing they are also loved, needed and wanted by lusty women and men working for the government! These hooker and gigolo employees could feign affection and companionship in exchange for a small, let’s say ummmmmmmmmm... $2 fee, in this new, Government prostitution Crown corporation. Why stop at the lotto or prostitutes? Why doesn’t the Government become our nation’s supplier and benefactor from a marijuana business? The Canadian Marijuana Board! What could possibly be more Canadian than that eh? The Government could grow it, pack it and sell it to the masses in little $2 dollar baggies with groovy little florescent stickers on them and splashy, flashy ads on TV! They could not only make us believe we have a good chance of wealth from the lotto and heartfelt love from their prostitutes but mellow us out over it all and give us a great hankering for nachos in the meantime. Jean Cretian paid an ad agency 3 million bucks for nothing? Hey! Don’t worry, that ain’t really stealing. Government is half doing it already with the control over and profiting from gambling, booze and cigarettes so what makes these other two, seemingly extreme scenarios much different? Whhhoooooaaa! You know what? There's an interesting joke out there that I'm reminded about just now: This joke means to remind us that people and governments must be careful not to compromise principles just because money is tempting them. We've already seen our government has, and slippery slopes always have only one direction. I really hate to be preachy, especially when I realize that every man has his own things to work on and work out but everything is cause and effect man. If we are puzzled over the violence and lack of empathy in our world and the terrible events that seem to have become more commonplace, just stop and take a look around. Maybe the little things that we ignore, accept, or even participate in and say don't hurt anyone can sometimes be just one more straw on the pile that can eventually crush us. Anyway… In the end, it's our own choice. We get what we put up with. Like the pretty lady said, Cute saying lady. Reminds me of that old movie 'War Games' starring Matthew Broderick. The computer in the movie stated this curious line  'the only way to win is not to play...' I think I'll use my 2 bucks this week for a nice big cup of Tim's coffee instead The lotto will always be there next week when I'm feeling weak, gullible and hopeful again.
