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Will this Lotto shakeup really make it harder to win? A maths teacher explains the odds

In gambling terms, the new National Lottery operator has raised the stakes for players.

Eamonn Toland

THE NATIONAL LOTTERY has announced some big changes to its flagship Lotto game, which will come into effect on 3 September. Firstly, the cost of playing has gone up by a third, from €3 to €4 for the minimum two lines. The other big change is the addition of two more numbers, going from a 45/6 format to a 47/6 format and hugely reducing the chances of winning the jackpot.

At first glance, this looks like bad news, but the new operator, Premier Lotteries Ireland (PLI), is putting a positive spin on the changes. They say there will be bigger jackpots, and a higher overall chance of winning a prize. Let’s look at this in more detail to figure out what it all really means.

First of all, is the price increase a good thing or a bad thing?

In gambling terms, PLI has raised the stakes for players. So the minimum cost of being in the game is now one third higher than before, and the overall prize money will increase in proportion to that. PLI has stated that they will continue to allocate 52% of sales revenue to prizes. This means that in the long term, looking at all players, for every €4 staked, just €2.08 is given back in prizes. Clearly this is a fairly poor bet compared with many other forms of gambling, but the changes in the stake have not made the overall value-for-money any worse or any better.

The issue really is that customers are being forced to pay a higher minimum stake to be in the game, unless they decide to stop playing altogether. The more they pay to play, the more they are likely to lose. On the other hand, the price increase is likely to be good news for PLI and for retailers, assuming that enough customers will continue to play the same number of lines as before.

What about adding two more balls to the draw?

It might not seem like much to add two more numbers, going from 45 to 47, but it has a huge impact on the chances of winning the jackpot. Before 1992, there were 36 numbers, and the odds of matching all six were 1,974,792 to one.

If that sounds like high odds, you are right, but it was not enough to stop a successful “brute force attack” on the Lotto by a syndicate from Scruffy Murphy’s pub. It’s a story for another day, but this led to the number of balls being increased to 39, for security reasons, and the odds immediately climbed to 3,262,623 to one.

Fast forward to today, and the odds of winning the jackpot are now over 8 million to one, and by next month they will be 10,737,573 to one. In case you’re wondering, this is calculated as (47x46x45x44x43x42)/(6x5x4x3x2x1), or 47C6 if you are good with a calculator.

Why would a lottery operator increase the odds? Isn’t this just going to annoy customers and stop them taking part?

Maybe. The reason that PLI is lengthening the odds is to increase the average jackpot size. If they lengthen the odds, they cut down on the number of jackpots won and there will be more roll-overs. More roll-overs mean that there will be a bigger jackpot, and more attention given to the upcoming draw, resulting in higher sales. If the Lotto jackpot is up to €20 million, a lot of people are going to ignore the huge odds, and buy a few lines that they might not have bought for a lower jackpot.

What about the odds for match five, match four etc?

This is where it gets (even more) complicated. The odds for matching fewer numbers, including the bonus ball, are all worse for the punter. However, the prize for match five and the bonus ball is likely to be about four times higher, at around €100k. The more commonly won match five and match four prizes stay the same, despite longer odds and a higher stake. Match three prizes will increase to about €9. So it’s a bit of a mixed bag.

There are a couple of other new ways to win, including prizes of a €3 scratchcard if you match two bonus ball, and a raffle for prizes of €300. Basically all we’re missing is a cuddly toy and a tin of USA Assorted (Google that if you are too young to remember). Overall, PLI will pay out 52% of sales revenues as prizes.

How come PLI is saying there is now a better chance of winning?

PLI has said that the odds of winning a prize are now around 29 to one instead of 42 to one. That seems strange when you think that the odds of winning the jackpot and everything down to match three have worsened significantly. The reason seems to be that they are including the likelihood of winning €300 in the draw, and also the likelihood of winning a €3 scratchcard.

These lower amount prizes are likely to make up the majority of all payouts. So the overall odds of winning “something” are better, although I’m not sure how exciting it would be to stake €4 and win a €3 scratchcard, which will have pretty long odds in its own right. And you might win another scratchcard on that, and who knows where it will all end.

So that’s how it’s all going to work, definitely more complicated than before, more expensive than before, and with bigger but more infrequent jackpots becoming the norm. If you do decide to play, we don’t have any sure-fire tips for winning, but we do advise you to avoid patterns in your numbers, in order to decrease the chances of sharing the jackpot. We’re not sure if it helps having your brother in law as your newsagent, but it doesn’t seem to hurt. Best of luck everyone!

Eamonn Toland is the founder of TheMathsTutor.ie, Ireland’s leading online support system for Project Maths.

Read: The Lotto’s about to get more expensive – and you’ll have less of a chance of winning >

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