Man does not understand chance – wins lottery

The California lottery is promoting psychics now: Psychic Messages Lead to $1 Million Powerball® Win!

That headline is a bit misleading.

Kevin Millard of West Hollywood used to buy lottery tickets regularly. Then he cut back except for the “big” pots. (A common thing for people who feel they don’t want to miss out on double-digit millions but will pass on the measly 1-2 mill).

He also called on a psychic during a time he felt he needed some advice:

During a miserable period of my life — you know, your average Tuesday — I went to see a psychic.

She got everything wrong. She became more and more frustrated, until she finally exclaimed: “Come on! Can’t you just tell me?!”

She kept the money, of course. Which is why I have a certain skepticism for those who claim psychic abilities.

It seems as if this psychic was of the typical ilk. She told Millard that he would be coming into money. According to what Millard told CNET, when he noticed the $208 million jackpot, his interest piqued and he recalled the psychic’s persistent messages – namely the one about the money. He made a point to go to a different store to purchase the ticket. He does not give a good reason WHY he did this, it had nothing to do with the psychic apparently.

“I thought, ‘I gotta play a lottery ticket. Maybe she’s right,’” Millard said. Just to shake things up even more, he told us he ditched his regular stores and searched out other places known to have had prior wins. That’s how he ended up at Golden Rule Liquor, which is located at 7753 Santa Monica Boulevard in Los Angeles…the place where he plopped down $20 for 10Powerball tickets. “It’s the first time I’ve been in there,” Millard said. One of those tickets matched the numbers 12-43-17-26 and 48, missing only the Powerball number 24.

So, let’s review:

  • He went to see a psychic. She failed him at a reading.
  • The psychic told him something he wanted to hear (that he was coming into money).
  • He obviously was interested in money since he played the lottery before; the pot often gets very high when people don’t win. People don’t win because of EXTREMELY long odds. (1 in 175,223,510, to be precise — less than the odds of someone becoming president of the United States or being born with an extra finger or toe.)
  • Due to the pestering of the psychic, he connected her message with his hope of winning.
  • He chose a different location but that doesn’t mean the random numbers he was assigned were anything special. (If he picked his OWN numbers, then it really would not have mattered where he purchased the ticket.)
  • He didn’t win the jackpot. Only a million.

Meh. Color me unimpressed. The Lottery Board is happy whenever someone wins. If they can promote it with a fun angle, they do.

He’s not saying that the psychic’s powers were responsible here. Because she did NOTHING but be a pain. She certainly didn’t give him any winning numbers (psychics NEVER do). This psychic angle is just a shallow attempt at making loose connections and our brain perceiving them as meaningful. Odds are shorter that she will continue to pester Millard now that he has money to burn. Maybe she will say the money is cursed unless she gets some of it. Psychics do that, you know. 

By the way, the article on CNET, a tech web site, contains a helpful reader comment: “Please keep articles about tech news. Thank you.” I LOLed.


  10 comments for “Man does not understand chance – wins lottery

  1. rhapakatui
    September 29, 2015 at 12:33 PM

    Excellent headline!

    …Yours, not CNET’s.

    I’d argue that your statistic about about being more likely to become president than win the lottery is a bit misleading. I’m sure you meant all of the numbers on a single ticket.

    43 people in the history of the country have become president. In the single drawing from which this story comes, there were 90,492 winning tickets sold. None of them won the jackpot including our Mr. Millard.

    Even still, I don’t think I’ll be cashing my paycheck in lotto tickets any time soon. I’ll stick to my day job, and being snippy on the internet.

  2. Geoff
    September 29, 2015 at 1:26 PM

    It’s bad enough that they are actively promoting a regressive tax that preys on ignorance. But pimping for psychics as well?

  3. One Eyed Jack
    September 29, 2015 at 2:32 PM

    The majority of people have little or no understanding of probability. I am thankful of this fact as it tends to work in my favor at the poker table.

    There was a nice piece today on NPR’s Morning Edition that discussed the whole risk/reward motivation among gamblers. Large prizes with little chance of winning provide greater incentive than smaller, regular rewards. Furthermore, gamblers are motivated even more by coming very close to winning without actually winning.

  4. September 29, 2015 at 8:07 PM

    It’s hard to imagine how a news source could feature the headline “Psychic Messages Lead to $1 Million Powerball Win!” when the story specifically cites how the psychic was of no help whatsoever.

    However, the aspect of this story that caught my attention was a phenomenon I’ve continually observed of people not willing to bother with measly $5 million payoffs. (Or name your figure). If someone handed me even $200,000 for a $5 ticket fee, I would happily pay the tax and bank the remaining $100k.

    I’ve asked a number of people about this…why they won’t take the trouble to buy a lottery ticket until the payoff gets into the $20-30 million range and have never received a sensible answer. But a few people have said something on the order of “Oh, if I’m going to waste some money it had better be for an enormous payoff” or “I don’t really think about it unless I hear something on the news.”

    Now, if I understand these things (and there’s a good chance I don’t), you have the same odds of picking the winning number no matter what the payoff is — though you may have to split your winnings. So the only motivation I can imagine for waiting until a $20M payoff is on the line is that it’s a bigger pie to potentially have to split. But unless you’re a professional athlete pulling down $100,000/month, I can’t imagine not being able to find some use for a million simoleons.

  5. Bill T.
    September 30, 2015 at 12:57 AM

    Headlines are designed to lure people to follow links to stories, editors on the face of it have no shame about twisting facts in the story to get a sexy headline, in other words, “click bait”.

  6. Haldurson
    September 30, 2015 at 1:28 AM

    While I’d never encourage anyone to actually purchase a lottery ticket, from a practical/mathematical standpoint, it’s best to purchase tickets when the jackpot is very low. It’s not actually ‘good’ to buy tickets then, but it’s slightly less bad. To paraphrase Lewis Black, “You are better off flushing your money down the toilet, because every once in a while, the toilet will overflow and you’ll feel like a winner!”

    I’d guess that the actual reason why people buy tickets when the jackpot is high is that the excitement level is increased at that point, the news will carry stories about the high jackpot, and show video of people lining up and you may feel like you are being left behind (when in fact, the people who are leaving your behind are those who put their money in the bank, or at worst, spend it on food and electricity and gas for their car).

  7. September 30, 2015 at 11:03 AM

    That affirms what I hear from some people that they don’t really pay attention till the jackpot starts making headlines

  8. Dan Beach
    October 1, 2015 at 9:38 AM

    I think part of the motivation to go for only the big jackpots is the outsized daydreams they create.

    What would I do with a million dollars? Pay off my house, and my parent’s house, and my sibling’s house, then invest some, and poof it’s gone. Not as sexy as thinking about the lavish vacation homes and cars and jewelry that come with a $100m payout.

    The dream intoxicates people into thinking it is worth wasting $20 on tickets. I personally don’t play the lottery. My father in law gets me scratch offs for christmas and I give him back the $10 “winner” since I don’t care enough to go to the store and cash it in.

  9. Haldurson
    October 2, 2015 at 3:58 AM

    This might be a little bit off-topic, but I just recalled that John Oliver (as usual) had a really great segment about state lotteries a while back.

  10. Bill T.
    October 2, 2015 at 11:39 AM

    I like to play recreational Blackjack in Vegs, much better bang-for-the-buck than California lottery. Anyway, I just cringe at the way I see many others playing. You tell them “get a player’s card” that will give them a guide on how best to play their cards and bet. The casinos even encourage it. They prefer to rely on “intuition”, faulty probability (the last five cards have been low, so …) and out-and-out reliance on “luck”, whatever that is. They don’t like it when I ask if they think the houses are relying on “luck”.

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