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Friday, December 13, 2013

The impossible-to-win Mega Millions is now even more impossible-er

Mega Millions, a tax user fee on the innumerate that deludes people in New Hampshire and 41 other states, has a jackpot over $400 million paid out over 20 years, which is the sort of big number that will generate cheap publicity (yeah, we'll probably do a story about people buying tickets; sigh).

It has always been impossible for you (yes, I'm talking to you) to win the jackpot. The odds were 176 million to one, which is the same thing as saying "impossible."

If you respond "But *somebody* has to win!" the answer is: "I'm not talking about somebody, I'm talking about you - and it's impossible for you, personally, to win." This statement has proved true for everybody I've ever said it to, and it always will prove true; I am protected by the law of large numbers.

Now it's more impossible: As of Oct. 22, those odds worsened to 1 in 259 million, because you have to pix six numbers from 1 through 75, rather than 1 through 56. The Mega numbers have decreased to 15 from 46, but overall chances of winning still are much worse. (I learned this from an LA Times story today.)

Lottery folks did this because big jackpots generate more sales, so they want fewer winners, in order to pile up bigger jackpots.

Lotteries are kind of fun to play but they are, of course, really stupid from a rational point of view. Years ago I ran a year-old simulation with New Hampshire lotteries, choosing numbers and then not buying the tickets. I kept track of my "winnings" - actually, "not-losings" - by calculating the amount I saved from not buying tickets, minus the prizes I missed. I did this twice, and both times I ended up more than $100 ahead for the year.