You can’t lose if you don’t play

Bo Gemmell

I decided to “take a chance for education” a few nights ago by wagering a few minutes of my time to critically analyze the Ohio Lottery. The payout I got was the realization that I could win 99.9 percent of the drawings in the Pick 3 game.

Before conducting this argument, let me define the term “win.” When I say “to win” I mean “to not lose.”

Now I’ll explain this revolutionary way of winning nearly 100 percent of the time. The Ohio Lottery’s infamous Pick 3 allows players to select three digits from zero to nine. Players have a one-in-10 chance of correctly picking the first number. Since numbers can repeat, players have the same odds in correctly picking the second and third numbers.

Players can alter the odds and the corresponding payouts by choosing between a straight bet or boxed bet. A straight bet is just as it sounds: picking three numbers and winning when those three numbers are drawn in that particular sequence.

Boxed bets occur when the three numbers selected appear in any order. For example, I could play the three digits of my birthday, July 29, in a six-way box bet and would win for any of these possible draws: 729, 792, 279, 297, 972 or 927.

As common sense would dictate, the one-in-1,000 odds I’d have betting one dollar on 729 straight would give the highest payout, which is $500. Betting that same dollar on 729 boxed would increase my odds to one-in-167 and decrease the payout to $83. This information is readily available at

So I could take one pathetic dollar to Circle K and invest – I love using the word “invest” in reference to the scams conducted by the Ohio Lottery Commission – that dollar toward a straight bet. The random drawing could turn my dollar into $500 or it could turn my dollar into nothing.

Here’s the revolutionary alternative I conceived: Rather than playing the Pick 3, I could invest each dollar into that empty Carlo Rossi wine jug I use for spare change. I can then check the twice daily drawings at the Lottery’s Web site to see if 729 straight appeared.

Since there’s a one in 1,000 chance for the random generation of 729, that would mean there’s a 999 in 1000 chance of it not showing up.

So by not playing the lottery, I have a 99.9 percent chance of winning (that is, not losing) one dollar.

As the odds dictate, I could not play the Pick 3 1,000 times and save $1,000. By opting out of those 1,000 plays, the odds dictate that I would miss out on winning one play for a payout of $500. I’d still be ahead $500. boasts that the Lottery raised $15.5 billion for public education since the first tickets went on sale in 1974. This money must not be going to math departments. I would like to think that Ohioans would be competent enough mathematically to stop playing the Ohio Lottery, but these are games in which human stupidity trumps reasoning.

Bo Gemmell is a junior magazine journalism major and columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].