This Game Can't Be Rigged. Supposedly.

Posted by: Mark Gimein on November 28, 2011 at 3:36 PM

lottery.jpgThree hedge fund managers—“Greenwich residents” as the Associated Press helpfully explained—claimed a $254 million Powerball jackpot. According to the AP, the $254 million comes out to $104 million after taxes, and is the 12th biggest in Powerball history.

All this makes one wonder (a) What these folks are doing playing the lottery, (b) if the expected payout on Powerball is better than even and (c) just what kind of accounting the lottery uses that makes $254 million turn into $104 million, and if it may have shared Madoff’s accounting firm. “It feels good,” Greg Skidmore, one of the winners, told the AP—maybe the most boring quote uttered by anyone who has just won $34-plus million in the lottery. That’s $34-plus million if the winners shared the proceeds equally, maybe a dangerous assumption in hedge fund world.

Props to Fortune’s Dan Primack, the first to tweet a photo of the winners, who work at Belpointe LLC.

Wait! We don’t have to wonder about (b). The more mathematically inclined have already calculated the Powerball odds, and the chance of hitting the jackpot is, according to Durango Bill’s Applied Mathematics, 1 in 195,249,054. Which means that, no, it doesn’t pay off to buy a ticket for each number, even if you add in the smaller prizes.

Photograph: @danprimack via Twitter

Reader Comments

Bill Butler

November 30, 2011 7:45 PM

If I were running the Powerball Lottery, I think I might want to check out the following “system”.

1) A “regular” Powerball player buys a ticket on a normal basis before the numbers are drawn. The ticket would have random (and losing) numbers. The computer at Powerball headquarters would assign a time/date/sale location/ticket ID to this (as well as every other) purchased ticket.

2) After the winning numbers have been drawn (and are now known), break into the computers at Powerball headquarters. Change the recorded numbers on the legitimate (and losing) ticket to the winning numbers. The records at Powerball headquarters would now have the original time/date/sale location/ticket ID, but the original random (and losing) numbers on the ticket would be replaced by the winning numbers.

3) Alter your printed ticket (or print a new ticket) to replace the original losing ticket. The ticket would now have the winning numbers.

4) Present your “winning” ticket to lottery officials. The time/date/sale location/ticket ID on both your ticket and the computer records would now match.

5) Tell the world “It feels good”.

Note: I am the Durango Bill that you referred to in the article.

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"The Wealth Debate" is a running discussion of wealth, poverty, the economy and income inequality in the U.S. and the world. It was started shortly after the Occupy Wall Street movement sparked a global protest about the fallout from the financial crisis and money in politics. You can reach the editors, Dan Beucke and Mark Gimein, by email, or follow BloombergNow on Twitter to keep up with posts.

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