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Words from Walstead: So Could it Really Be You?

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Ladies and Gentlemen,

Today, I want to talk to you about winning the lottery. Just to be clear, I haven’t actually won the lottery, well not yet anyway! In fact, I’m not allowed to play the lottery for another five years. But if I do play, I want to know whether it’s worth the gamble…

If I flip a coin, I can probably guess correctly if it’s heads or tails about half the time. So, gambling on that is a fair bet. Half the time you double your money, half the time you lose. You’ll end up more or less even. If I roll a normal six-sided dice, I’m only likely to guess the right number one time in every six rolls. So, gambling on that would only be a fair bet if I won six times the amount I stake.

To win any prize on the Euro Millions Lottery (anything from £2.50 up to £120 million or more) you have a 1 in 13 chance of winning. So, imagine a wheel of fortune with 13 segments, and we’ll spin that wheel to see if you’ve won. It’s only a fair bet if the average prize is £32 or more. But, the real average is about £5.

What about winning more than £10 on the lottery? Let’s imagine a wheel of fortune where each segment was only 1cm across – about the width of your finger. For a win of more than £10, the wheel of fortune would need to be a little over 30 metres across. That’s a wheel about the same size as the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral. Your chance of winning is just one centimetre on the edge of that wheel.

So, what about that jackpot? Well, the wheel would need to be about the size of the whole of England (it’s a wheel that is 445km across!) with only one of those 1cm segments being the jackpot win. To give yourself the same chance of winning the jackpot as you would have flipping a coin, you would need to spend £175 million on tickets! And then, you only have a 50/50 chance of scooping the prize. The lottery currently costs £2.50 per ticket, so to be a fair bet, the jackpot prize would need to be about £350 million.

You are more likely to be attacked by a shark (about 10 times more likely) or struck by lightning (140 times more likely). You are even more likely to be killed by a falling coconut (although that’s only 2 or 3 times more likely!)

So, the short answer is that you have pretty much zero chance of winning the lottery.

Good luck!