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Lottery Nonsense

16 February 2013

By Donald Catlin

One of my readers (John M.) recently wrote to me and pointed out that a guy who has won several lotteries has decided to write a book giving tips to players and was lucky enough to have landed an interview on Good Morning America. His name is Richard Lustig. John wondered about my reaction to his claims.

From my past writing on the subject of lotteries my reaction was predictably skeptical. Nevertheless, given all the hoopla I decided I might buy the book and read it. First though, I did some internet searching to see what kinds of tips Mr. Lustig was handing out. Sadly, these were the same tips others before him had been purveying. So no, I didn’t buy his book. I decided that if Mr. Lustig believes the stuff he was saying on GMA then I would pass on his book.

What sorts of tips? One of them is not to use quick picks. Here is a direct quote: “Every time you buy a quick pick the set of numbers is unique, which always puts you at the worst odds, 1 in 175 million.” Whether or not you use a quick pick or some other method to select you set of numbers the set is certainly unique so I’m not sure what the point is here. What I do know is that if you pick the numbers yourself you introduce a bias in the selection and this can cause a win to be shared with other players. I discussed this phenomenon in my December 2005 article Selling Dreams that is in the archives. There I give an example that occurred in Florida’s Fantasy Five game and is quite striking.

Mr. Lustig believes that the proper strategy is to play the same numbers day after day. What numbers? Well, he hints at this method by pointing out that recent Powerball jackpots have numbers that sum up to totals between 104 and 176, not including the bonus number. This is the well known bell curve method of choosing numbers that is been touted by Gail Howard. I address this in my January 2004 article entitled Lottery Nonsense; the article is in the archives and explains the fallacy.

Lustig recommends staying away from numbers that have come up before according to Fox 4 WFTX-TV. This is a version of the old maturity of chances doctrine and is a well-known gambling fallacy. The only way this can be good advice is if lottery trials are not independent events and I can assure you that they are. The Multi-State Lottery Association goes to great lengths to make sure that their trials are independent. If this was not the case the lottery could be beaten; the Association is doing quite well.

If the above is not enough to convince you to not invest in lottery schemes then go right ahead and best of luck to you. You have my opinion on the matter and I have taken my own advice. See you in a couple of months.

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