Pi Attitude Zone: Conformity & Stability

Feeling Lucky

In the twenty-odd years since it was launched, Britain’s National Lottery has become firmly entrenched as the country’s favorite form of gambling.  The lotto bug bites the old and the young alike, appealing similarly to people of different educational and socio-economic levels.  As everyone seems to say, “Well, someone’s got to win…

The surprising factor is the rather foolish and superstitious ways many lottery-ticket-buyers pick the numbers they bet on.  When the lottery was first launched in 1994, the Financial Times sourly hailed it as “a tax on stupidity”.  Analysis of prevailing number-selection patterns among Britain’s betting public would support that jaundiced view.

With each lottery draw, little balls carrying six numbers from a possible forty-nine are drawn at random.  An independent commission of statisticians periodically confirms that there are no patterns or biases in the results.  The overall odds against picking the six winning numbers in a given draw never vary: fourteen-million-to one.  (An individual’s chance of winning a jackpot is significantly lower than the likelihood of being hit squarely on the head by seagull poop).

Yet large numbers of people think they know better, and employ “magic” methods in an effort to improve the odds.  Many avoid “rare” numbers like 13 and 20.  The numbers that have come up most frequently (23, 38 and 44) are systematically picked by the “lighting strikes twice” believers.  In contrast, the “lightning never strikes twice” aficionados avoid them like the plague. 

Picking numbers in straight or diagonal lines on the form seems to many to improve their chance of winning.  Others look at the last known winning numbers and add or subtract one.  A lot of people see special significance in their birth dates, (or their children’s, or pets’), and bet on those.  Some people are convinced that the number 7 and its multiples have a built-in luck factor.  Many slavishly bet week-after-week on the same six numbers: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6.  (If that combination ever did come up, the sheer number of identical bets would ensure that none of the winners would win more than a few hundred pounds, rather than the millions they dream of).

Do all these ploys and superstitions make a difference? Yes, they actively reduce the likelihood of winning big, because they raise the number of people making the same bet, thus splitting a win more ways.

Pi says: stick to random numbers, and let the lottery computer pick them for you.  And at fourteen-million-to one against… good luck with that!

Zone: Conformity & Stability Country: Europe Product – Leisure