Thanks to tonight’s Powerball jackpot of $1.5 billion, there’s no shortage of clickbaity lotto-related articles floating around the Internet. But one article from The New York Daily News jumps out as particularity stupid.
“Want a better shot at winning the $1.5B Powerball?” read the headline. “Avoid Quick Picks.”
For those of you who are smart enough to abstain from playing the lottery, a Quick Pick is a ticket with numbers that are randomly generated by a machine (as opposed to a traditional ticket with numbers you select yourself). So why are people who let a machine make their picks at a disadvantage? They’re not. But that hasn’t stopped Dawn Nettles, the proprietor of the Texas-based Lotto Report, from making the claim.
My advice to all those looking to play: Do not buy Quick Picks for Wednesday’s draw. Everyone should choose their own numbers. If players had created their own Quick Picks on Saturday night, I think all combinations would have been sold and we would have had a winner.
Truth be told, I can barely add and subtract. But luckily, it doesn’t take a statistician to figure out that Nettles’ entire argument is bullshit.
Nettles seems to think that duplicate tickets generated by Powerball machines are a big disadvantage for players. Her logic? There are 292.2 million total combinations in Powerball, and 440.2 million tickets were sold for the last drawing alone. If not for the duplicates generated by those machines, Nettles is confidant that there would have been a winner.
And in that sense, she’s right. If everyone played a different combination of numbers, there would be a greater chance of someone winning. And if 292.2 million different combinations were sold, someone would be guaranteed to win. But even if that ridiculous scenario played out, it would in no way increase your particular odds of winning.
The Powerball’s winning numbers are drawn at random, which means that every possible combination has the exact same chance of being drawn. The cruel, unfeeling universe doesn’t give a damn if you play your familys’ birthdays, the bar-code on a box of laxatives, or if you let the machine choose. When it comes to your odds of winning, it doesn’t matter how you choose your numbers, it doesn’t matter if there are duplicates, and it doesn’t matter how many people play.
Since the odds of a particular number being drawn don’t change, the fact that Quick Pick machines may generate duplicate tickets is completely irrelevant. And even if machine-generated duplicates did hurt your chances of winning (which they don’t), there’s nothing to stop human players from also choosing duplicate numbers.
But again, I’m an idiot (which is why I play Powerball in the first place). So don’t take my word for it. Take the word of my friend Brian Wallace, a non-idiot security engineer who specializes in encryption. I asked him about Nettles’ theory.
“If a large number of players choose their own numbers [assuming there are no duplicates], there would be higher odds that there would be ‘a’ winner,” Wallace said. “It does not, however, improve the odds that the winner would be you.”
Added Wallace, “The idea that choosing your own Powerball numbers instead of using Quick Picks gives you better odds at winning is false.”
So at the end of the day, buying Powerball tickets is pretty stupid. But listening to idiots who claim they can help improve your odds of winning is even worse.