By now, you may have heard about the bad lottery advice dished out by “lottery expert”, Richard Lustig, this Monday morning on the FOX “News” channel. “Buy as many tickets as you can afford.” Business Insider calls this “literally the worst lottery advice ever given”. (E.g., Buying 60 lottery tickets leaves you as likely to die in a plane crash as to win Powerball. And, each ticket you buy has a negative expected value.) But, Mr. Lustig’s lottery advice is even worse than it at first seems.
Fox News advice on how to win the lottery: pic.twitter.com/r6WBKqqCqL
— Media Matters (@mmfa) January 11, 2016
Mr. Lustig is a self-proclaimed lottery expert by virtue of claims of winning lotteries seven times. (This claim is somewhat dubious as it includes several small prizes and two non-cash prizes.) But if you watch the complete FOX “News” segment, it becomes painfully obvious that Mr. Lustig does not understand probabilities.
The real doozie comes at about 1:25 into the segment, when Mr. Lustig presents his arguments for not buying “quick pick” tickets. A quick pick ticket is a lottery ticket where a computer generates a random number to play. Mr. Lustig (incorrectly) asserts that playing a different number each time produces worse odds of winning than playing the same number consistently, over and over again.
This is simply untrue. Mr. Lustig is succumbing to a variation of the gambler’s fallacy.
The truth is, each lottery drawing is an independent event. That is, the outcome of one drawing has absolutely no bearing on the outcome of another drawing. Further, each possible lottery number has an equal chance of being drawn.
So, go ahead. Play the same number every time. Or a different number every time. Either way, you have the same (very, very, very, very, bad) chance of winning. And, either way, you can expect a negative overall payout.
Bonus: Good Lottery Advice
Next time you have the urge to buy a Powerball ticket, put the cash in an envelope in your drawer and go for a walk. While you’re out walking, pick up any litter you see. When you get to a trash can, retain any lottery tickets you found amongst the litter and throw the rest away.
This strategy has a number of advantages over various “pay-for-ticket” strategies:
- You’ll have similar odds of winning the lottery.
- You’ll feel a little healthier after getting some exercise.
- You’ll leave the world a little nicer–or, at least, a little cleaner.
- You’ll have a little extra money in an envelope in your drawer.