I was going to make a wry Tweet on the subject of yesterday's Lottery mania this morning, but just couldn't get it down to 120 characters, so I figured I'd do a blog post. Lucky you, eh? That's a scan of my MegaMillions ticket from yesterday (I'd actually bought another one ... what a splurge! ... on Thursday, when the prize was "only" $540mil). I hear tell that the $640,000,000.00 was the largest prize for any lottery anywhere ever.
As I've probably mentioned here previously, I do regularly buy "quick pick" tickets for the big multi-state lotteries, MegaMillions and PowerBall (you may recall my bitching when the minimum ticket on the latter went up to $2, thereby increasing "my gambling budget" by 50%), doing so on the basis of "keeping the probability envelope open" at the cost of a couple of cups of coffee a week.
In the freak-out over this huge prize, there have, of course, been people pooh-pooh-ing lotteries, pulling up statistics about "you have a #-million-to-one chance of dying from (fill in the blank), and less than a 175-million-to-one chance of winning". Of course, that is true, especially when applied to, say, a number based on one's birthday or the likes, where you are playing a specific number and hoping that the lottery balls fall in line.
I prefer to think of this in more generalized (and/or obscure) terms of odds as derived from quantum physics (hence the term "probability envelope"). After all, before they start up the machine with the ping-pong balls, there is a 1:1 relationship between the number generated for my "quick pick" and the number eventually generated by the ping-pong balls coming up out of the 175,711,536 possible combinations ... each is as statistically likely as the other (within the parameters of the random-number generation program on one and the physics of the swirling ping-pong balls on the other, which one would hope would be at least equivalent to a significant extent). My ticket is just as likely to win as any other, so by buying that one quick pick, I have a non-zero chance at winning (despite Fran Lebowitz's classic quip: "I've done the calculation and your chances of winning the lottery are identical whether you play or not.") ... it's any extra tickets that only increase your chances (having moved from zero to non-zero by getting the first one) by .000000006 each. And, of course, if one ventures into the MWI take on quantum mechanics, there IS a time-line out there in which those two number sequences DO match ... every time there's a lottery drawing ... so I sure wouldn't want to be caught without a ticket the if my perceived time-line and that probabilistic time-line coincided!
So, for what a casino patron would likely blow through in a half hour at a blackjack table, I can, for an entire year, take solace in the idea that I, four times a week (2 for MM, 2 for PB), have at least a theoretical possibility of getting life-changing cash (even the smallest pot is twelve million) ... or, as Judy Tenuta would say: "It could happen!" After all, at least one of the three tickets that won yesterday came from a single buck playing a quick-pick.
Oh, by the way ... I just noticed "how close" my numbers were:
Winning sequence: 02 04 23 38 46 - 23
My quick-pick #s: 02 03 36 43 46 - 26
And I'm sure it would bug any Discordians out there who didn't play yesterday, that two of the winning numbers were good old 23!
Oh, one last thought ... with these very-large lottery prizes, it gets to a point where the theoretical purchase of every number combination (although, I suspect, the reality of the very large number ... nearly 176 million combinations ... means that it would be impossible to actually find a way to play each, given the time constraints on printing tickets over the 3-4 day window before a drawing) begins to look like a good bet ... in this case, wagering $176 million to win $462 million (the cash pay-out option). Except, of course, all those meddlesome other players ... if a group doing this had been in this past drawing, they'd be coming up short by over twenty million dollars, since they'd be splitting that prize pot three ways (and how horrible would that be knowing that at least one of the other winners had gone in with a single buck on quick pick!).
Ah ... still wish I would have won!