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Deal Me In


No bluffing needed

Dear Mark: The Michigan Lottery offers a game called PokerLotto. It includes a draw poker hand from the machine against a poker pay table. Then, there is a 7:30 pm drawing in the evening where if the cards on your ticket match the exact poker hand shown on TV, you win $100,000. My question regards the second chance of winning. To me at least it makes the game exciting, otherwise, I would not play. Does the second chance of winning make for a good bet? Nancy C.


PokerLotto, Nancy, is simple enough. You start by visiting your lotto retailer to get a printed PokerLotto ticket. Each play will cost you $2. Five easy-pick cards are then randomly selected from a standard 52-card deck and are printed on your ticket. If the five cards drawn create a winning poker hand, you can instantly win “up to” $5,000. If not, your same cards participate in a nightly drawing for more prizes, like that $100,000 you mentioned.

So, what are the odds of your poker hand matching that of the nightly drawing?

There are 2,598,560 possible five-card combinations in a standard 52-card deck. That makes your second chance of winning one in 2,598,560. Those are pretty long odds, Nancy, especially when a $100,000 payout is nowhere near that figure. 

The Michigan lottery coins PokerLotto as “two great games in every hand.” I disagree, not only because of the very long odds of matching five-of-five cards but also because the probabilities on every other winning hand versus the payout, make for a tough beat.

Granted, we are encouraged to believe that it is okay for the lottery to rob us blind because so much of the money goes towards a good cause; still, Nancy, I would recommend passing on PokerLotto.


Dear Mark: Roulette can be won in the following manners. One, every spin need not be bet (there are bad times and good). Two, Red-Black, Even-Odd, and High-Low will eventually break you. Three, if you have more than three repeats (back-back) numbers in last 20 rolls, walk away. Verron M.


Let’s begin, Verron, with “every spin need not be bet. There are good times and bad.” Because every spin is a random event, nobody knows the whereabouts of where that ball is going to drop next. Yes, you are correct that there are hot and cold cycles, but, unfortunately, only Nostradamus can predict those future hot and cold runs. See also my answer to three.

As for advice on #2, all bets on a double-zero roulette table hold the same 5.26% house advantage, with one exception: the five-number bet (0, 00, 1, 2, 3). The casino edge on that wager is 7.9%. This house edge does not discriminate against your mentioned wagers of black/red, even/odd and high/low, or a single chip on Black straight up. 

Number 3, Verron, does have some merit. Although each spin is an independent event, if you are not physically gambling, you are not losing money. The 5.26% house edge cannot work against you if you don’t have chips spread on the layout. 

Leave it to the Greeks, Verron, to believe that gods influenced the outcome of games of chance. 


Gambling Wisdom of the Week: "Researchers have discovered that rats are very similar to humans in many ways, except they are not stupid enough to purchase lottery tickets." – Dave Barry


Probability guarantees nothing

Dear Mark: Every so often we hear about someone winning the lottery or hitting the grand prize on a progressive slot machine, but these odds are astronomical! How is it that someone, somewhere, always seems to be able to get lucky and beat the astronomical odds? What I'm trying to get at is that these odds are astronomical, and hence, the jackpot shouldn't be hit, but that doesn't seem to be the case. Johnson T.


Any jackpot that has a probability of hitting, like, for instance, a Powerball ticket or a progressive slot machine, ought to eventually pay off if it is played long enough. When given a set of possibilities and enough trails, a favorable outcome should occur for some lucky bloke.

That said, there are times that I am not entirely convinced that every gambling probability will come to fruition over time. One such surety unrealized is the a Special Bonus Keno ticket that many casinos offer. All you have to do is hit 19 out of 20, and you win $250,000. 

Sounds easy, right? Well, here is where I am going to need some convincing that this is even a possibility. Here’s the arithmetic, Johnson. If you were to play one keno ticket per second, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, according to laws of probability, you would catch 19 out of 20 once every 93,420,116 years. Oh, and the odds of hitting it? Drum roll please – two quadrillion, 946 trillion, 096 billion, 780 million to one.

Another is this popular ticket in Nevada—the 15 spot. The chances of your hitting it are 428 billion to one. Consider, Johnson, that no person has ever hit a solid 15 spot, a solid 14 spot, and to the best of my knowledge, a 13 out of 13 since gambling became legal in Nevada in 1931. Makes you sort of wonder why it’s popular, doesn’t it! 

So, should you even be playing? As long as you realize that hitting “the big one” is a never-in-your-lifetime probability, I am not opposed to dabbling a few – I mean a few – disposable dollars’ worth of Lottery Quick Picks for a shot at a once-in-a-lifetime possibility.

However, limit those few-and-far-between dollars to when the jackpot exceeds the true odds of hitting it. With Mega Millions, that number is one in 258,890,850, which is an easier catch than the Powerball game at 292,201,338 to one. 

With jackpots in the millions, I can see how easy it is for players to inhale jackpot helium. But you need to ask yourself, Johnson, are the spoils worth the cost of the hunt? 

Then again, even if your chances of hitting the big one are a teensy weensy bit better than zilch, you cannot beat those cosmological odds if you don’t play.


Gambling Wisdom of the Week: “Adventure upon all the tickets in the lottery, and you lose for certain; and the greater the number of your tickets the nearer you approach to this certainty.” – Adam Smith