Claims that the Patea Four Square has beaten the odds by selling four First Division-winning Lotto tickets last week have been shot down by a statistics expert.
Out of seven winning tickets in Saturday’s Division One draw, four of them were bought at the same South Taranaki shop. The million-dollar prize is being divided seven ways, netting each ticket’s holder $142,857.
The other three were bought from Wallace Road Superette in Auckland, and on My Lotto by players in Porirua and Auckland.
As of this morning, Lotto had still not heard from the winner or winners, so couldn’t confirm if four different people had bought the Patea tickets. That’s led to some speculation online that the draw was “dodgy” or “rigged”, while others have said Patea is just incredibly lucky.
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But statistician Dr Robin Hankin says that’s “very, very unlikely” – and it’s far more believable that one person bought all four, perhaps using their usual combination of numbers.
The senior lecturer in statistics at AUT University calculated the chances of four different people buying a first division-winning ticket in the same store in New Zealand in one week at about five chances in 100,000.
That’s based on there being 1400 Lotto retailers in New Zealand. There was nothing special about this particular week, or about the Patea Four Square – the probability would have been roughly as low at any given outlet during any given draw, excluding factors like store size, Hankin said.
“What normally happens is people phone me with an amazing coincidence but it’s not so amazing once I look at it. You can’t do that here – [the idea that] four people bought the same winning tickets from [Patea Foursquare] is a very rock hard coincidence.
“It’s a very, very unlikely occurrence … so it’s begging for another explanation.”
A Lotto spokeswoman confirmed it was probably one winner buying all four tickets.
“We have no way of knowing until they claim, but we sometimes have winners play the same numbers on one ticket or on multiple tickets, which means they have multiple wins for one draw.”
Hankin thought the person would likely have used a different Powerball number on all four to up their chance of winning the jackpot.
With 40 possible Powerball numbers, they would then have a one in 10 chance of getting the Powerball number right – potentially netting the ticketholder a cool $8 million in addition to their $570,000 of First Division winnings.
But it wasn’t to be. Powerball and Strike Four jackpotted to Wednesday night – now worth $10 million and $400,000 respectively.
Online tools let people see how often a particular number has been drawn – hinting that some numbers must be “lucky” or alternatively are overdue to be drawn.
But Hankin says that’s “crazy”.
“You might say to yourself, 7 hasn’t appeared for months, it must be going to come soon. Everybody does that – we’re psychologically geared up to it – but the ball has no memory. It’s the gambler’s fallacy.”
Probability is very difficult for humans to grasp, even for professionals who’ve done it their whole lives, Hankin said.
“I’m a statistician and I still have difficulty with this.”
But he’s not one to play Lotto. “My route to being a multimillionaire is joining a boy band and hoping probability favours me there.”
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