In 1982, Jack Strauss won the World Series of Poker Main Event despite being below his last chip in the tournament.
He had an odd-defying feat of magnitude previously unseen in poker, which earned him a $520,000 first prize and gave rise to the famous words, “all you need is a chip and a chair”.
The National Lottery has not been won since June 2021, which is not quite on the scale of Jack Strauss, but still very unlikely. The €19m jackpot will fall in some form this weekend as lotto providers Premier Lotteries Ireland received regulatory approval to hold an urgent draw after a seven-month rollover.
But what odds does each lotto player face for Saturday night’s windfall?
The Irish Independent has enlisted the help of Brian Nolan, associate professor in the School of Mathematics at Dublin City University, to focus on numbers.
What are the odds of matching six numbers and winning the jackpot?
With clarity and certainty, Mr Nolan says your chances of matching six numbers and landing €19m are “remote”.
“That’s a difference from about 10.7 million that a person walks into a shop and the line of lotto. They match six numbers and get the jackpot. Basically those odds don’t change, no matter how many people play the lotto, Says Brian.
To put this in perspective, Prof. Nolan says that one’s chances of winning the lotto are comparable to arriving at one precise moment at another time in a four-month period.
What about number five and bonus?
Now, this weekend most punters will be watching closely. We have seen for the past seven months that it is unlikely that someone will match six numbers on a Saturday, but it is more likely that someone will match five numbers and bonus.
In the last 27 draws, 17 people have matched five numbers and a bonus. And in the unlikely event that no one matches the six numbers, the top prize will be filtered down to this prize level. So, there is a two in three chance at least one person will win the lot.
For an individual, however, the chances of getting the prize are six times higher than the jackpot, says Professor Nolan.
This is where Saturday’s excitement lays for many, knowing that they may have a six times better chance of winning the lotto jackpot if no one matches the six numbers.
What about the people who get the number five?
It is not beyond the realm of possibility that no one matches six numbers or five numbers and bonuses. After all it is Irish Lotto.
“In that case, the odds of someone matching and sharing five numbers are about one in 44,500,” says Prof. Nolan.
Not unimaginable I heard you say that? Correct. The only issue is the average number of people who have matched five numbers in the most recent draw. No jackpot winner is around 25, so you’ll most likely share your winnings with a couple dozen other people.
Given the huge number of people doing the lotto on Saturday, this number could be even higher, but if 30 people have to share more than €19m among themselves, it is unlikely they will complain.
Are the syndicates in a better position now because of the nature of Saturday’s draw?
It’s a distinct possibility, yes, especially if the prize money decreases through the levels.
The odds of winning any prize in lotto are 29 to 1 and if you have included lotto plus draws it is 1 to 10. If smaller prizes are promoted as jackpot funds reach lower levels, this increases the chances of the Syndicate returning profits from Saturday’s draw.
However, Brian urges caution. “If you are basing your financial future on winning prizes in the lotto then you need to find another hobby,” he says.
“It’s supposed to be a fun game with a small chance of winning. Relying on winning, no matter how many lines you buy, is a risky business”.
The days of syndicates “buying the lotto” as the Stefan Klinsewicz-mastermind coup managed in 1990 and 1992 are long gone.
Will the mathematician be playing the lotto?
Sure. Professor Nolan says he has bought several tickets over the past few months and, knowing his low chances of winning, will not play for a bit of fun.
As the saying goes, “a chip and a chair” …