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Do you play the lottery?

Average: 3.2 (5 votes)
Danny Danny's been teaching English at EC Malta for over 10 years.

Twenty minutes ago, I bought my first ever lottery ticket…

Actually, in a fit of blind optimism, I bought five. The way I see it is that I’ve either just flushed seven fifty down the drain, or I’ll get a 999992.5 Euro return on my investment. And, despite my pathetic track record when it comes to winning anything based on pure luck, I decided it’s a risk worth taking. After all, what have I got to lose?

I mean apart from the seven fifty, obviously.

It’s not like I’ve never won anything in my life. About twenty years ago, I casually slipped a fifty cent coin into a fruit machine, hit a button, and was rewarded with the sound of fifty Maltese pounds, in coins, clattering down into the tray and my happily awaiting arms. A couple of years later, I won a T-shirt in a crossword competition. Okay, so the T-shirt was a red so bright that astronauts could use it to guide them back to earth from many light years away, and there were identical prints on the front and back advertising the department store that had run the competition… and to be seen actually wearing it would result in the instant death of any respect you may have had from anyone, including yourself… but that’s not the point. The point is that it was a T-shirt, and I won it.

And since then… nothing.

So I reckon it’s high time that changed. Hence, the five lottery tickets.

The lottery is called Super Five, and it’s a relatively simple concept, even for a mathematical moron such as myself. All you have to do is choose five random numbers between one and thirty-eight. On the day of the draw, which is every Wednesday, you sit in front of the television with the ticket in one hand and the lucky mascot of your choice in the other, and wait for the lottery machine to cough up five bright yellow numbered balls. If three out of the five numbers on the balls correspond to the numbers on your ticket, you win just enough to get the price of the ticket back, and perhaps a little extra to pay for the bus fare for the ride to work the next day. Get four numbers, and you might take a week off work and go on a short holiday somewhere. Get all five, and you get to buy the company you work for and fire your boss. If nobody wins the big one, the jackpot rolls over to the next Wednesday, and the sum increases substantially.

This week, the jackpot is one million Euro, which is what enticed me to buy the tickets in the first place. I could use a million Euro.

So, of course, could every other person who lives in Malta, which is why absolutely everyone and their dog has purchased a ticket or five. For the past twenty minutes I’ve been trying to calculate the odds of me being the lucky winner. The problem, as I’ve already implied above, is that my mathematical skills are on par with those of a baked potato. A particularly stupid one…

There are approximately 401,880 people living in Malta, which, as luck would have it, is one of the most densely populated countries in the world, so I suppose it could be argued that I stand a one in 401,880 chance of winning. But sixty-seven thousand, two hundred and sixty-six of those people are under fifteen, and are therefore under the legal age to buy a ticket. Ha! That increases my chances of winning to one in 334,614. Slightly better perhaps, but still too early to pop open the champagne.

So… 55,395 of the remaining people are over the age of sixty-five, and, with any luck, at least two-thirds of them will either forget to buy a ticket or figure that they don’t have enough time left on earth to blow a million Euro, so what’s the point? Which increases my chances to one in… um… 297,684. Hmmm…

Approximately two hundred thousand Maltese citizens go on holiday every year. Which would average out at 16,666 a month, or four thousand, one hundred and sixty-six a week. Assuming that that includes this week too, and keeping in mind that you can’t buy a Super Five ticket abroad, then we’re left with 293,518…

The average life expectancy in Malta is seventy-six for men and eighty-one for women, and there must be at least twenty thousand men and women of that age who might just, maybe, between today and tomorrow…

Okay, now that’s just so wrong. I apologise. I wasn’t thinking straight.

You see, I shouldn’t be working on the number of people! Each person may, like me, have bought more than one ticket! I ought to be working on the number of tickets sold!

So how do I do that then? I don’t know the number of tickets sold.

So much for that.


Aha! I think I’ve come up with a better way to figure it all out…

If I buy a ticket, that means that that ticket is either the winning ticket, or it’s not. This means I can either win, or lose. It’s a fifty-fifty chance. So far, so good.

Now, a large number of people not buying a ticket increase the odds of my ticket being the winner. They have a zero percent chance of winning, so some of the fifty percent chance they would have had if they had bought a ticket just has to come my way. So, based on the earlier calculations presented above, approximately 108,362 people won’t be buying a ticket. So, 108,362 people at fifty percent per person, which gives us… ahem… 5418100… er… percents, which is then split evenly between the remaining members of the population who actually did buy a ticket – 293,518 – which, er, gives everybody an extra 18.5 percent. Which means that I now have a sixty-eight point five percent chance of winning.

Don’t forget that I bought five tickets! There’s only one winning ticket, which means that I have a one in five chance right there. One in five is twenty percent, which, added to my previous sixty-eight point five, now gives me an eighty-eight point five chance… round it off to eighty-nine to make it easier. Even better, counting all the people in prison or hospital who can’t get out to buy a ticket, make it ninety-five percent.

Which leaves us with all the people who have already won Super Five at some point in their lives. The odds on them winning twice are highly unlikely, whereas I have not only never won, but I’ve never even bought a ticket until today. That’s got to make up the last five percent, surely.

It’s a done deal. The million is mine.

My wife, who’s been reading this over my shoulder as I type, has just shaken her head sadly, muttered ‘idiot’ under her breath, and left the room…

We’ll see. If I do win, and by my calculations I stand at the very least a one hundred percent chance of doing so, you lot will be the first to know. Just look for the blank space where this article normally is in next month’s newsletter.

And if I don’t… well, I guess I’ll see you next month, where we’ll be taking a look at techniques to use when trying to get your job back after threatening to fire your boss…


By Danny, EC Malta English School