I ran long on my last blog, so today I’ll keep it short and sweet with a tale of my own gambling naivety. I’ve been playing the lottery.
I don’t usually participate because the house edge of playing the lottery is so high and it isn’t really entertaining in any way. The only utility you derive from playing the lottery comes from the how-would-I-spend-it daydreams in the days before the draw. Mine look a bit like a bad re-boot of Brewster’s Millions.
As I’ve previously mentioned, operators typically pay out 50% or less of the money they take from ticket sales, and it can be much lower (ahem, People’s Postcode Lottery). In short, it’s just about the worst deal in gambling, so I steer clear.
But when a jackpot gets really high, as it has with the Euro Millions, it starts to look compelling. It is the magic of a juicy jackpot.
In truth though, it isn’t the amount of £184M that motivates me (although it would certainly pay off a lot of mortgages). My motivation to play was from a legacy feeling that above a certain level (e.g. £120M), the EuroMillions became theoretically correct to play.
To put that another way, I was under the impression that above a certain level, if you were somehow able to buy every single ticket combination, then it would be a profitable exercise. Essentially, that your entry ticket was worth more than the £2.50 you paid for it.
I don’t know if that was just an intuitive guess on my part, or if somebody had told me it was the case, but over time it had become an unquestioned belief. And it’s wrong.
Here are the important numbers:
The current jackpot is maxed out at £184M (€220M) and the chance of winning it is 140M to 1.
There are a lot of consolation prizes too, and they are designed to be worth a stingy 20% of total ticket sales. On Tuesday there were 50M tickets sold, and it’s likely that Friday’s draw will shift 60M. That means additional prize money of around £2.50 x 60M x 20% = £30M.
If you add that figure to the jackpot amount, and chuck in the £1M that is set aside for the Millionaire Maker raffle, you have £215M of winnable wonga. If you divide that by the number of possible combinations, you get a real ticket value of £1.53.
That means in this current best-case, maximum jackpot scenario, you lose 97p for every ticket you buy. In investment terms, it’s only slightly worse than the first time you drive a brand-new car off the dealership forecourt. Pardon my French, but that is a piss poor return on investment.
Just to drill home the point, it’s worth addressing the extraordinarily high volatility of playing the EuroMillions. Even if my prior belief about mega rollovers was correct, it’s still questionable to play. The odds of winning are mind-boggling.
If you wanted to guarantee a win, you would need every human in the UK, Ireland and France to buy a ticket. As a responsible gambling advocate, I can’t condone forcing the children of Western Europe to spend their pocket money that way. Although it is still better than lootboxes.
If you decided to eschew our nearest neighbours and try to win the jackpot on your own, you would wait an average of almost 1400 millennia to hit the big prize. That means, if it was your turn to win this Friday, you would need to have started playing about a million years before we first turned up as a species.
To its credit, at least the EuroMillions raises money for good causes. From the sale of a single ticket, 70p goes towards worthwhile project, including 14p dedicated to developing sport. That is more than the 55p that covers operator costs, commission and government duty.
Does that make me feel any better about my misguided recent participation? Not particularly. I thought I was being shrewd when in fact I was being lazy and stupid, and that makes for a bad gambler.
That said, I will still play this Friday, but it will now be just a single ticket and I don’t care if I win or lose. One entry is all I need to justify the daydreams, and that’s £2.50 well spent.
I wasted £10 on the disappointment of England vs Hungary at Wembley last night, where I was lucky to get a free ticket, but unlucky to be exposed to such dreary football.
My total losses on the EuroMillions was only £20 before I came to my senses.