US man thinks he knows "the secret" to winning the lottery

July 10, 2016

Categories: Skepticism , Tags: Pseudoscience, Lottery

This weekend's lottery Powerball jackpot was worth $40 million, with 3 winners. The NZ Herald (opens new window) and Newstalk ZB reported on Richard Lustig (opens new window), a US man who has won several prizes and written a book explaining how to win the lottery.

He talks in the Newstalk ZB (opens new window) interview about how he's won millions and lost track, but the reality seems to be that he's won $1.05 million, before tax, on only 7 wins.

The methods that Richard describes in his book are a mixture of the obvious and the ridiculous. For example, a sensible suggestion is that people use numbers higher than 31. Because some people will stick to using days of the month, there will be fewer people sharing a win that includes numbers above 31.

His silly suggestions show a lack of understanding of randomness, and include ideas like that random numbers generated by a ticket machine have less chance of winning than hand picked numbers chosen for their luckiness, and that once you've worked out which numbers are "lucky", you should stick to them.

Of course, the lottery is random and is also designed to make a profit, like all gambling businesses. Apart from those few casino games where card counting can help, for most gambling the simple rule is that your average take home winnings will be less than the money you put in. Randomness dictates that some people will do better than average, and some people worse, but the case of Richard Lustig appears to be one of a lucky person (opens new window) at the end of the bell curve mistakenly believing that their wins are the result of their actions, rather than blind luck.