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Is Lottery a scam? Popular myth debunked

Tuesday 19 May, 2020

road sign with scam alert text

Lottery rules are well known by South African players. Millions of players chip in for the jackpot by buying the tickets, and only a few can win big. The game of chance (as the lottery is) in this form supports the country budget and also different good causes, charity. However many of us think that lottery may be a simple scam and is cheated every single draw.

This formula has been known for many years. Originally, lotteries were used to support local city budgets. In exchange for the support from citizens, several of them received material or cash prizes, and they were chosen by drawing a lucky coupon. Nobody treated this type of game as a way of making money. It always was voluntary.

A brief history of the lottery

The first known nationwide lottery was held on January 11, 1569, during the reign of Elizabeth I. Several hundred thousand tickets were sold, each of which was winning tickets. Winnings, however, were on average less worth than tickets, of course, some people won more valuable prizes at the expense of other players. The prizes included silver tableware, tapestries, or just cash. The proceeds from the sale were allocated to the plan of constructing London's water supply. In the past, the lottery helped settlers in America. History shows that lotteries were organized for the public, not personal (players) profits. Of course, corruption occurred when there was a lack of state supervision. Most often, the mafias organized their own instances of popular lotto games. This was the only known example of lotteries that were obvious scams.

Do lottery owners cheat by knowing numbers on my bet slip?

The most common complaint of players is that the lottery organizer knows the numbers before the draw and chooses them so that players can't win. This way the organization could scam the players. For example, the player decides to omit a few digits, and during the draw, exactly the same numbers pop up, or consecutive numbers. What is going on? Unfortunately, the math in the game of chance is not on the player's side. We are under the illusion that there is an order in the lottery game and that our numbers must pop up regarding the trend. However, it has long been proven that the trend does not have to be continued in the lotto or Powerball game, because it is purely random and the frequency trend is subject to a random walk (read more on Wikipedia: random walk).

Okay, but many people will ask - why can't I even hit the lowest prize in Powerball, are they cheating? The chance to hit only Powerball and none of the regular balls is probability like 1 to 35. This means that, on average, for a large sample of games we'll get one win worth R10 after sending 35 tickets that cost 35 x R5 = R175. This isn't a scam - you will admit that this is just an unprofitable business. But that's the lottery probability and no one has to cheat to make you not to win. After all, the objection is that the numbers are sent to the lottery server and after that, the algorithm chooses a random combination that is in favor of lottery organizers and this one coupon is being drawn. Theoretically, this is possible, but there is a rigor of handling the National Lottery IT system and hardly anyone has access to it. What's more, sometimes after choosing a combination, someone must win. In the case of jackpot rollover, more and more people play and the possibility of such manipulation decreases (there are more and more exhausted combinations of six numbers in the Powerball), although players seem to think the opposite. In addition, let's note that from time to time somebody wins anyway. Just look at the win tables and you will notice that their amounts are exactly in line with the theoretical probability calculations.

Let us also note the technical difficulty of drawing the desired lotto combination. Although automation is at a high level, keeping secrets about the set draws would be extremely difficult. There are thousands of lotteries in the world. There were literally a few scandals over many years, and they concerned playing recordings of lottery draws from a tape. The most known case was cheating Hot Lotto in the USA when technical operator manipulated computerized draw (same as these organized by Ithuba in SA).

Do fewer people win in the lottery than ever?

You can actually see this trend but this isn't due to the scam. It has its beginning after the ticket price increase a few years ago. Therefore, players fill fewer combinations, and according to mathematics, less often someone will win. Why? Because we play for the same amounts of cash despite raising prices, so we mark fewer bets. If we want to have a winner every single game of Powerball, we would need over 42,375,200 tickets sold every draw which is almost impossible nowadays.

In fact, this will not happen even after the many combinations are chosen more than once by different players, because many people are used to marking the same numbers.