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Best of Donald Catlin

Gaming Guru

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Another Lottery Question

3 April 2010

I recently received this letter from a reader named Tim:

Hello Don,

I have been reading up on you. Saw your name in Woman's World. I want to know if it is possible to calculate a percentage of probability for a 'skip number' in the lottery. See below. I pick my numbers by 'skip number', the last time a number appeared. For example, this is the first column number skip total of my history. [A column of pairs of numbers appeared below the letter] Skip '1' has happened 19 times. Skip '2' 6 and so forth. Is there some way to predict the next skip for column 1 might be? I hope I am making myself clear.

Thanks

Well, I wrote the following back to Tim:

Dear Tim,

Thanks for your email. I don't know what a 'skip number' is and I can't make sense of your explanation. Sorry.

Tim wrote back and said:

A skip number is when a number was last drawn. Say a number was drawn 5 draws ago and it is drawn again now. Its skip number would be '5' because it was drawn 5 draws ago.

Well Tim, I'm not sure how you go about utilizing this information but it really doesn't matter. Implicit in your question is an assumption that past results influence future behavior. Sometimes, as in Blackjack, this is true. However state lotteries spend a great deal of effort and money to ensure that each draw is independent of previous draws. Thus, I really can't address your question.

It is interesting to me that you saw my name in Woman's World. I did agree to be interviewed by them; the interviewer and writer was someone named Beth Shapouri. Her article appeared in the May 1 edition of Woman's World. Ms. Shapouri did accurately report what I said although certainly not all of what I said. What she didn't report is that I told her state lotteries are poor wagers and that I don't play them. Even the best of them, which in my own state of Massachusetts is the scratch tickets, have a house edge of 25% or higher. Terrible!

What is worse, the editors of the magazine put a blurb on the magazine cover that read "Tricks guaranteed to increase your odds of WINNING THE LOTTERY!" This leads readers like you to believe that I have some tricks that will increase the probability of drawing a winning combination. I do not! Anyone who claims they have such power is either a liar or a scam artist, probably both. There are ways that you can increase the chances of not sharing a prize in case you win, but that is of limited worth. See my article Selling Dreams in the Casino City archives or check out my book for more about this.

So my best advice on dealing with the lottery is don't play it. See you next month.

Don Catlin can be reached at 711cat@comcast.net.

Donald Catlin

Don Catlin is a retired professor of mathematics and statistics from the University of Massachusetts. His original research area was in Stochastic Estimation applied to submarine navigation problems but has spent the last several years doing gaming analysis for gaming developers and writing about gaming. He is the author of The Lottery Book, The Truth Behind the Numbers published by Bonus books.

Books by Donald Catlin:

Lottery Book: The Truth Behind the Numbers
Donald Catlin
Don Catlin is a retired professor of mathematics and statistics from the University of Massachusetts. His original research area was in Stochastic Estimation applied to submarine navigation problems but has spent the last several years doing gaming analysis for gaming developers and writing about gaming. He is the author of The Lottery Book, The Truth Behind the Numbers published by Bonus books.

Books by Donald Catlin:

Lottery Book: The Truth Behind the Numbers