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# Science, Math, & Technology

## Bill Nye - Is Playing The Lottery Rational?

Posted 1 Month ago by mariomguy

Bill Nye brings up a lot of awesome points. It is basically impossible to win the lottery. It preys on people who don't know math and are lower income. You are always likely to lose. And his example with an inverted Russian Roulette is brilliant. You wouldn't hold a revolver with 449,999,999 bullets to your head. Nobody would. Yet people will absolutely throw their money away for the lottery.

He blamed himself for not educating people well enough... It's not your fault, Bill!

## There are 25 Replies

I mean, I play the lottery occasionally. Not because I have the idea that I am going to win. Just because I have ten bucks in my pocket that I don't need, a significant amount of the money goes to schools/veterans, and I technically could win, which would be cool.

I wouldn't hold a revolver with 999,999/1,000,000 bullets loaded into it to my head and pull the trigger, but that's not what is happening. That is a massive misrepresentation of risk/reward.

"Playing the lottery" isn't rational or irrational. Playing the lottery because of a specific line of reasoning can be rational or irrational.

1 Month ago
CZM

In any lottery with a prize for which the following two conditions hold:
• you don’t have to pick everything they draw in order to win
• they don’t have to draw everything you pick in order to win
It is possible to arrange a set of picks such that the joint probability at least one of them wins is a bigger multiple of the probability just one of them wins than the number of tickets times that probability.

I was thus able to buy about 200 $1 Texas lottery tickets so that my expected loss was more about$.07 cents per ticket instead of about $1.00 per ticket. There’s no way to fix it so that you have a positive expected value; nor even a zero expected value. .... In that lottery IIRC you picked six numbers between 1 and 50 and they drew six numbers between 1 and 50 and there was a lesser prize if five of your numbers matched five of theirs and an even lesser prize if four of theirs matched four of yours. If you chose a set of tickets so that each possible set of three numbers was included in one and only one of your sets of six your expected loss was reduced. .... The original Italian city lottery was the buyer chose ten numbers from 1 to 100 and the city drew ten numbers from 1 to 100 and the buyer won if five of the numbers they picked matched five of the numbers the city drew. ... The addition of a “power ball” ruins everything and basically prevents any strategy from working. • 1 Month ago chiarizio The idea isn't just probability, but what we think of probability. If you had a gun that basically ALWAYS blew up, you'd never pull the trigger because the risk is just too great. But the reward in playing the lottery is great, the risk not so much. So people think "eh, I'll give it a shot." The odds winning in both examples are exactly the same. That's what makes the lottery so enticing to play. The idea you actually could be a winner! Nevermind how impossible that is. My mother used to play scratchoffs, and I swear she lost hundreds on 'em, but still loved to play. I agree with Bill Nye, it's completely irrational. And it's sad. 1 Month ago mariomguy But if you want to talk about probability, you have to look at the chance of breaking even. Your chance of breaking even is always lower than 50% every time you play, so the trend is you lose your money. Playing at all is not a good strategy. 1 Month ago mariomguy Your chance of breaking even is always lower than 50% every time you play, so the trend is you lose your money. Playing at all is not a good strategy. You have to look at your expected value. Probability of winning multiplied by how much you’d win if you did. If that’s greater than the purchase price of the tickets you buy it’s smart to play. Otherwise not. At the default prizes it’s never a good play. As the jackpot builds it can start to be a good play. If there’s any ball you have to pick what they draw to win it’s never a good play. So powerball is never a good play. Likewise there’s no point going for the grand prize you’d get if your pick exactly matches their draw. If they have secondary and/or tertiary and/or quaternary prizes for picking all but one or all but two or all but three of the balls drawn, or for them drawing all but one or all but two or all but three of the balls you pick, then that might be worth playing for, provided the lesser jackpots have gotten large enough. .... If I have one chance in 10,000,000 to win$3,000,000.00 that is not worth a $1.00 ticket. It’s like putting in a dollar and getting 30 cents back. If I have one chance in 10,000,000 to win$30,000,000.00 then that is worth a $1.00 ticket. It’s like putting in a dollar and getting$3.00 back.

1 Month ago
chiarizio

Nevermind how impossible that is.

It's not impossible, just improbable. Why you would be a stickler for what is rational and then blatantly misuse terminology to describe the reality of the situation is beyond me.

I agree with Bill Nye, it's completely irrational. And it's sad.

As I explained above, this is irrelevant and overly judgemental.

1 Month ago
CZM

You have to look at your expected value.

Probability of winning multiplied by how much you’d win if you did.
If that’s greater than the purchase price of the tickets you buy it’s smart to play.
Otherwise not.
It's not. Lottery pays scholarships for students in my state. It was quite hefty, too. Everyone in the state of Florida purchases a ticket, that's $20,000,000 raised. A lot of it goes to the Department of Education. If I have one chance in 10,000,000 to win$3,000,000.00 that is not worth a $1.00 ticket. It’s like putting in a dollar and getting 30 cents back. If I have one chance in 10,000,000 to win$30,000,000.00 then that is worth a $1.00 ticket. It’s like putting in a dollar and getting$3.00 back.
But even so, the chances are not averaged. You have a 1 in 10,000,000 chance to win, 9,999,999 in 10,000,000 chance of losing, and you're only going to do this so often in your life. If you buy a ticket every week for 20 years, that's 1040 chances. 5 tickets, 5,200. A whopping 20 tickets, 20,800. And your real chances are usually far lower than the cost of the ticket. Most of the time, you are losing money.

It's not impossible, just improbable. Why you would be a stickler for what is rational and then blatantly misuse terminology to describe the reality of the situation is beyond me.

Sorry I didn't use the exact word you want. But my wording was "nevermind how impossible," which suggests some leeway for something as definite as impossible.

As I explained above, this is irrelevant and overly judgemental.

So, would you pull the trigger? After all, there is a chance you won't get shot.

1 Month ago
mariomguy

Sorry I didn't use the exact word you want. But my wording was "nevermind how impossible," which suggests some leeway for something as definite as impossible.

It's not that it's the "word I want", it's that there are widely accepted specific usages for words that you apparently don't care about.

So, would you pull the trigger? After all, there is a chance you won't get shot.

Not relevant. I wouldn't pull the trigger but I would buy a lottery ticket, because they are two different situations.

1 Month ago
CZM

It's not that it's the "word I want", it's that there are widely accepted specific usages for words that you apparently don't care about.

You can argue nomenclature all you want, the point I made still came across. That's the purpose of language.

Not relevant. I wouldn't pull the trigger but I would buy a lottery ticket, because they are two different situations.

I mean, of course you can buy as many lottery tickets as you want, and you can only pull the trigger once, but people react a lot stronger to the Russian roulette thing than they do to the odds of winning a lottery ticket. People don't care about the odds of winning, they just really want to play and are under the impression one day, eventually, they will win. In reality, the odds are you will lose your money, and you're paying scholarships.

1 Month ago
mariomguy

You can argue nomenclature all you want, the point I made still came across. That's the purpose of language.

I can just pretend that what you said was right, but that doesn't make what you said right. What you said was slanted to give an impression that made your standpoint seem much more obviously reasonable. I don't support that kind of rhetoric.

people react a lot stronger to the Russian roulette thing than they do to the odds of winning a lottery ticket.

Because they're not particularly similar situations that you're presenting.

People don't care about the odds of winning, they just really want to play and are under the impression one day, eventually, they will win.

I'm not particularly under the impression that I will win, so I guess that it's not irrational when I play, since what you are presenting as the core element of the irrational thought process is not present in my thought process.

1 Month ago
CZM

People don't care about the odds of winning, they just really want to play and are under the impression one day, eventually, they will win.

As an occasional lottery player (typically when the jackpot gets massive, which is when you have the worst odds of winning), this is absolutely not the case. I never expect to win.

But if I don't play, I'm guaranteed not to win 100% of the time. For a fairly low entry cost, I have at least a tiny theoretical chance. That's worth occasionally throwing a soda's worth of cash on every now and again.

1 Month ago
Count Dooku

I wouldn’t buy one ticket every day.

I’d buy no tickets if the ratio of payoff to price were less than the odds against winning.

If the ratio of payoff to price were greater than say 14 to 1 and I had a scheme to raise my odds of winning to 7% instead of less than 1 in 10 million by purchasing a set of 200 tickets I might go ahead and purchase those 200 tickets.

Who the hell buys one ticket every day?

People I know buy no tickets when the jackpot is low and buy multiple tickets when the jackpot is high.

The main reason this doesn’t work is that when many tickets are purchased the likelihood of multiple winners splitting the jackpot goes up and people don’t know how to plan for that.

....

But as I said since everyone went to powerball I no longer play.

If you have to pick a ball that has to be drawn in order to win there’s no way to improve your expected value even when the jackpot is high.

If you want to pay for public schools it’s better just to donate the money.
The politicians lied when they said the money would be used for education and infrastructure;
And even if they told the truth the lottery companies get a big cut.

1 Month ago
chiarizio

I can just pretend that what you said was right, but that doesn't make what you said right. What you said was slanted to give an impression that made your standpoint seem much more obviously reasonable. I don't support that kind of rhetoric.

OK. 1 in 500 million is not impossible. It's incredibly extremely holy hell nigh-on unbelievably improbable. Happy?

I'm not particularly under the impression that I will win, so I guess that it's not irrational when I play, since what you are presenting as the core element of the irrational thought process is not present in my thought process.

What's irrational is people are so much more hopeful about a lottery victory than they are if the same odds were for anything else. Make it anything negative. Or not so negative - 499 million boxes, one of them has a slice of cake, the rest of them have raw broccoli, and some of them have nothing. How long will you play this game? Because the reward for the lottery is so great, it doesn't matter how improbable the odds are, the fact that the chance exists at all makes people giddy.

Things more likely than winning the lottery:

- Winning a Gold Olympic Medal
- Becoming a movie star
- Becoming President
- Becoming Canonized
- Becoming an Astronaut
- Winning an Oscar
- Get struck by lightning

1 Month ago
mariomguy

What are the odds an Olympic gold medal winner becomes an astronaut then an Oscar-winning movie star then gets elected Oresident then gets struck by lightning and is then canonized?
Is that also more likely than winning the lottery?

Incidentally winning a state lottery is CONSIDERABLY likelier than winning the Publishers’ Clearing House Sweepstakes. Just a factoid FYI.

1 Month ago
chiarizio

What's irrational is people are so much more hopeful about a lottery victory than they are if the same odds were for anything else.

If literally everyone on the planet but you and me were convinced that playing the lottery meant that they would win eventually, no matter the odds or conditions, that still wouldn't make the action of playing the lottery irrational. The only thing that makes it irrational is actually having irrational reasoning behind the action.

1 Month ago
CZM

Well, you have a 1 in 662,000 chance of winning a gold medal. 1 in 1 million chance of getting struck by lightning. 1 in 1.5 million chance of becoming a movie star. 1 in 10,000,000 chance of being President. 1 in 12,000,000 to be an astronaut.

Winning the lottery is 1 in 500,000,000. So, not quite as unlikely as fulfilling two from the original list, but it's hundreds to thousands of times less likely than each of the events I described. Being a prodigy AND struck by lightning is one in 250,000,000. That's still half as likely as winning the lottery.

1 Month ago
mariomguy

If literally everyone on the planet but you and me were convinced that playing the lottery meant that they would win eventually, no matter the odds or conditions, that still wouldn't make the action of playing the lottery irrational. The only thing that makes it irrational is actually having irrational reasoning behind the action.

Most people play the lottery to win money. If you have a better chance of losing money and nigh-on-zilch chance of winning, then rationally, logically, there is no reason to play. You are always more likely to lose something than gain anything.

And it should be said, the big jackpot does not change your chances of winning one bit. So even if the jackpot was over 500 million, realistically you'd need millions of tickets for this to even be considered a viable bet, and even then victory is still no where near guaranteed. Mathematically, there is no reason for anyone to visit any casino or pay into the lottery. You are more likely to pay for someone else's college education than succeed yourself.

1 Month ago
mariomguy

I don't care.

3 Weeks ago
CZM

Well, you should, because you're losing money just like practically everyone else who plays the lottery.

3 Weeks ago
mariomguy

I'm not losing money, I'm spending money. I accept that the money is gone when I spend it. Hell, this is how I handle actual investments that have way better chances of turning a profit. I don't put money in with a foregone conclusion that I'm going to get anything back.

I'm pretty sure I literally understand this better than you do.

3 Weeks ago
CZM

i know a guy who won a shitload of $by guessing the first few numbers or whatever 3 Weeks ago poptart! I lost my post. Maybe I’ll try to re-post it. 3 Weeks ago chiarizio If you play the lottery, because you have a greater chance of losing something than of winning anything, you are making the conscious effort to slowly lose money over time. You like the thrill of gambling, the chance of victory. But you're more likely to spend$5 in order to win back $4 than to spend$5 and win back $100. There are stories of people winning the lottery. There are also stories of college dropouts becoming billionaires. But just playing the lottery, you're much more likely to lose money overall, and making the conscious effort to do so. I told my mom this and she didn't accept it. She just said it's fun. I wish more adults, parents, and elderly played video games instead of losing their money at casinos or the lottery. Gambling is an overall net loss. My cousin owned a legit Vegas slot machine, and when I was a kid I tried to figure out how often it would give out a jackpot. It took hours to hit the jackpot. It would take 10 coins and maybe spit back 1 or 2. Sometimes it would take 20 coins and give nothing. And when it gave the jackpot, it was actually underwhelming compared to the amount of money that went in. It showed me the real problems with gambling... People get so hooked on the intermittent victories that they ignore how much money they spent to get there. Mathematically, it's all a loss. So, most mathematicians' answer? If they had$5, take the $5 and go. If they have to spend it, put it all on the biggest bet possible, play once, then walk away. The chance of winning with$5 is so small, you might as well win the biggest bet you can in one go. But otherwise, casinos, lotteries, and gambling are all designed so you lose your money. If the end goal of gambling is make money... it just doesn't work.

3 Weeks ago
mariomguy

Yeah when I play gambling games I prefer Black Jack and Baccarat.

3 Weeks ago
IKM

Yeah, I also plan to go to Vegas at some point, and while I'm there, I'm going to walk up to a roulette table and put fifty dollars on double zero, just for the fucking hell of it. And no matter what happens, turn around and walk out of the casino having had my fun. And it will be entirely rational, because I am aware of the chances of winning, I am aware of the house advantages, I am aware of how casinos make money off of gambling, and none of that is relevant to why I want to put fifty bucks on double zero. I am neither ignorant nor mistaken nor irrational about what I think is likely to happen. I choose how to spend my money, and if I want to put fifty dollars on double zero, that's what the fuck I'm going to do.

3 Weeks ago
CZM