On really playing the Lottery

Fascinating story.

By the April 22 Lotto Texas drawing last year, it had been seven months since a player hit a jackpot. Because the pot keeps growing until someone matches all six numbers, the long drought meant the grand prize had swollen to $95 million, the game’s third-largest ever.

That night’s draw — 3, 5, 18, 29, 30, 52 — matched a single ticket purchased in a small store in Colleyville, outside of Fort Worth.

Winners have six months to claim their prize, either in payments over 30 years or a lump-sum, typically worth about half. On June 27, the state of Texas issued a check for $57.8 million to a New Jersey-based limited partnership apparently formed to collect the jackpot, called Rook TX.

The Texas Lottery Commission, whose proceeds mainly fund public education, celebrated the big win — “generating much needed revenue for Texas Schools,” then-Executive Director Gary Grief wrote. “What the Texas lottery is all about.”

But a statistical analysis of the April 22 Lotto Texas drawing strongly suggests that night’s draw wasn’t what a lottery is about at all. Rather, the numbers indicate Rook TX beat the system.

Unbeknownst to the millions of players who’d invested their hopes and dreams into the game and its life-changing jackpot, the winner had already been decided.

Rook TX appears to have engineered a nearly risk-free — and completely legal — multimillion-dollar payday.

And the state of Texas helped.

Spoiler alert: This apparently anonymous partnership bought a ticket for each possible numeric combination, thus ensuring they would win. This is a logistical problem, as you need to buy almost 26 million tickets to make this work, which just takes time to accomplish, a big cash outlay up front – all those tickets cost a buck apiece – and a big financial risk since all it may take is one other winner splitting the jackpot with you to turn your bet into a loser. It’s easier to accomplish the first part of this task, as you don’t have to walk into a store and buy physical tickets anymore, which makes a scheme like this more attractive to outfits that can handle the cash and thus makes the Lottery overall a bit less of a moneymaker for the state, but no one seems terribly fussed about that.

How do we know for sure that this Rook TX bought all of the ticket combinations? They won all of the runnerup prizes as well, worth another $2 million in total to them. In other words, they got all of the five-out-of-six, four-out-of-six, and three-out-of-six winners, too. The odds of that happening without playing all the numbers is basically zero.

That’s the TL;dr of this story, but you should read it all anyway, it’s quite the ride. Also read this story about the math. Note that the advertised jackpot of any lottery is the amount paid out over 20 years. The cash equivalent, which most people take up front, is about 40% smaller – this one paid out at about $58 million, which is why there’s such a risk of splitting with other winners. Like I said, read the rest, and then read this followup story that sheds some light on the logistics of this scheme.

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2 Responses to On really playing the Lottery

  1. C.L. says:

    This is awesome !… but how do you buy Tx Lottery tickets and NOT have to go into a retailer ?

  2. Jason Hochman says:

    C.L. you have to watch TV. I see an add on TV for buying lottery tickets online. I buy my ticket at the store, so I am sorry but I can’t tell you the name of the Web site. Just watch your TV.

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