M. Giant's
Throwing stuff at the internet to see what sticks

Friday, February 24, 2006  

Luck of the Draw

When I walk through the Skyway from my parking ramp to my office downtown every morning, I can see the Powerball billboard on Hennepin and 9th. You know the one, if you live in a Powerball state. It says, "Don't belittle Powerball. It's always big." This is of course directed at slack-ass gamblers like myself who can never shift ourselves to actually buy a ticket until the jackpot reaches at least nine figures. And probably not even then, unless that first figure is a two. It also depicts a big red ball that's designed to look as if it's just smashed into the billboard like a wrecking-cherry, if such a thing existed, and a large digital readout of the current jackpot. Which I generally ignore.

But even I noticed a couple of weeks ago, when the jackpot was edging up towards a third of a billion dollars. I should buy a ticket, I thought idly, and then didn't. I think that's why nobody won that week.

I couldn't ignore the $365 million jackpot last week, though. But the problem is that I never go to a gas station unless my car is on fumes, and I still had three quarters of a tank left. And I wasn't about to make a special trip for something that probably wouldn't even have a very long lifetime as a bookmark.

But then I remembered that there are convenience stores, right up in the Skyway, that I walk by every day. Like the one in the building next to mine that sells snacks, beverages, and, for some mysterious reason, reproductions of Egyptian artifacts. Surely they'd be able to hook me up with a Powerball ticket.

And they could. I stopped in on Friday evening and asked for "a couple Powerball tickets." The (Egyptian, I'm presuming) clerk wordlessly and instantly printed up one ticket with two sets of numbers on it, which confused me a bit.

Okay, maybe I buy Powerball tickets even less often than I may have led you to believe.

I didn't really want to pick my own numbers, because every time I look at winning Powerball numbers, they're ones that I never would have picked in a million years. Despite Trash's suggestion, I didn't want to pick numbers from my life, because the odds of winning are infinitesimal enough without exponentially raising the odds by requiring the winning numbers to match our birthdays. And I wasn't about to pick the Lost numbers, because come on. By the time the jackpot gets split between all the other idiots who picked them, I'd end up owing money. Looking at my randomly generated numbers that were cranked out by the machine, I noted with satisfaction that they were numbers that I never would have picked in a million years. This was a good sign.

I knew I wasn't going to win. I knew with even greater certainty that I wasn't going to be the only one to win. And I was most certain of all that somebody else was going to win the next drawing. But it was fun, for a day or so, to have two one-in-147-million chances for a big, green wad of fuck-you money. I was actually a little worried for a second on Saturday afternoon when I thought I'd lost the ticket. Not because I thought it was a winning one, but because I would never know. That would be so many times worse than losing.

I didn't watch the live drawing, but afterwards I went downstairs and looked at the numbers that were posted in the bottom right hand corner of the screen during the local news.

I don't know what all the rules are with Powerball. I don't know how many numbers you need to match to get even a smaller prize, or anything like that. There's a little chart on the Powerball homepage giving you the odds for various matches. But I don't think it tells you what the odds are of matching not one single number, which is what my two tickets accomplished.

Ah, well. The actual winner needs the money more than I do, and will certainly do better things with it than I would have. That kind of money tends to ruin people's lives, anyway.

But I'm reminded of a story I heard years ago. It might even be an urban myth. Seems a guy played the same lottery numbers every single day. For years, he played the same numbers on the theory that they would have to hit eventually. And then one day they did. But the guy had forgotten to buy his ticket that morning. That one morning. And he killed himself the next day.

As one of our morning radio show guys said, the moral is to never miss a day of gambling. I'm certainly not going to start buying lottery tickets on a regular basis. But next time the jackpot's over a third of a billion, I might pick up a couple more tickets. Maybe even three.

Today's best search phrase: "Frog stomach inside? Outside?" If this is the kind of thing you need Google for, maybe "outside" is a concept you need to become more familiar with.

posted by M. Giant 8:30 PM 5 comments


I checked Snopes and apparently the story is kind of true: a Brit killed himself for not buying his usual ticket, but only 4 of his 6 numbers had come up that week anyway.

By Blogger Mary, at February 24, 2006 at 10:18 PM  

You know, I've been a fan of this site since the "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" post, but never have left a comment. But I keep meaning to ask where you find the search phrases. Obviously, I missed that post. Thanks in advance for answering the idiot question, and have yourself a merry little Ash Wednesday, or whatever.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at February 25, 2006 at 5:38 AM  

that poor guy. Poor suicidal-lotto-man. He had the exact same chance with the numbers everytime he played them. Playing the same numbers in different lotterys doesn't change the probability they will come up. It's not like bingo where the used numbers come out. It's reset every damn time. What a thing to kill yourself for.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at February 25, 2006 at 7:10 AM  

I got a happier story. A guy I work with accidentally bought the same number twice and won. He usually buys a number for a few drawings in a row. He just happened to overlap his numbers when they hit five numbers without the powerball so he won $100,000. Since he did it twice, he won $200,000. Very cool. Oh and he didn't kill himself.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at February 25, 2006 at 7:47 AM  

Anonymous at 9:10 AM, if I usually played the same 6 numbers but skipped the week they were drawn, I wouldn't kill myself but I would be upset. If you commit to playing a lottery and play the same numbers every week, the fact that the predicted odds of your 6 numbers coming up any week are about the same as the odds of any other 6 numbers coming up any week is irrelevant.

A very few people luck into a chosen number combination that is going to come up sometime during the lifetime of that lottery. Of course, they can't know that in advance, and choosing a combo doesn't make them any more likely to win than playing a randomly generated set.

But if they play that combo for week after week, and skip the one week in which that rare successful combo is actually picked, that's going to hurt worse that taking a random pick every week and missing every week.

By Blogger Mary, at February 25, 2006 at 8:04 AM  

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