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“Investing” in the Lottery? The Math behind Toto and 4D in Singapore

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Ryan Ong

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Big Sweep, 4D, Toto…so many ways to win. And on top of that, a ticket is just a few dollars. Even if you have a snowball’s chance in a microwave, that small investment is worth the potential payoff right? Besides, there are systems you can use to improve your odds. There are whole books about it. In this article, I talk to some serious lottery players. Then I examine the numbers behind it.

 

Winning Punters

I found some punters who claim to have won it big in the lottery. Coincidentally, one of them I meet every morning:

Ellice (pronounced ‘Alice’) Kwong is a housewife, with two children in JC. I run into her at the MRT station every morning, where she invariably comments on my having five of the same shirt. She tells me that:

“I not sure how much I spend also. You ask me also I don’t remember. Maybe $60 one month. $20 for 4D, $40 for Toto. I think should be more than most people spend. But you know I got win so many times! Four times already. If my luck is good just play lah.”

Dominic Wang is another serious punter. He’s a former house mover, who now deals in light fixtures. He says:

“I spend around $50, maybe more. I think with the right system, it’s quite possible to win. I’ve won twice myself, once I won over $3000. I think as long as you know what you are doing, you don’t go and randomly tikam-tikam*, the odds are not as bad as most people think.”

*Tikam-tikam – Roadside gambling game, very popular in the ’60s. The irony is noted.

 

Pick up penny
Who says it’s hard to live on luck? Rubbish.

 

Not-so-Lucky Punters

But most of the lottery lovers I spoke too have an entirely different experience:

Jerome Quok is a Mass Communications student, who moonlights as a short order cook. He tells me he spends:

“At most $10 a month. Maybe less. I don’t really go with the mindset that I will win. It’s just for the excitement when I check the results. It’s more like entertainment than an actual investment. I only ever won once, and it was something pathetic. Less than $100.”

I said “it’s still money,” but Jerome said the win was after playing regularly for four or five years.

Aaron Siew is one of those friends I love to hate. He’s does typesetting for brochures and magazines. While he comes over to steal borrow more DVDs, I ask about his Toto obsession:

“I guess I spend about $20 a month. I promised that I will win Toto at least once in my life. It’s a ‘must do before I die’ thing. I don’t care even if it’s consolation prize, so long as I win at least once in my life. I’ve never won ANY lucky draw or anything before.”

I asked if that wasn’t a good reason not to buy Toto. But he suggested I dip my head in a bucket three times and pull it out twice, then he left.

I asked Jenna McCormick, who lives two floors below me. She’s a housewife, with one child in Primary school.

“I think Louisa (her mother-in-law) has a bad influence on me. When she buys, I’ll buy. That’s about $20 a month, but some months I don’t buy at all. I don’t really understand the different systems, she (Louisa) will tell me how to colour the slots in. I won once, it was a few hundred dollars. So I split it with her and we had a big party at Pizza Hut, and my share was all gone after that!”

 

Pizza
“Your pizza. That’ll be $1,200 over a five year period.”

 

 Investment vs. Payoff

Of the 12 people I spoke to, only one has actually seen a return on his investment. Here is a cost / benefit comparison:

Claimed Investment(Refers to total investment over five years) Claimed Payoff(Refers to total winnings over five year years) Profit / Loss
Dominic Wang $3000 $4500 (+) $1500
Ellice Kwong $3600 $2,500 (-) $1100
Jenna McCormick $1,200 $500. After splitting with fellow punter, $250 (-) $950
Jerome Quok $600 $60 (-) $540
Aaron Siew $1,200 $0 (ha ha!) (-) $1200

 

To put it in perspective, think about the last investment scheme you saw. How would you react if someone showed you a scheme where, after five years, your reward would be somewhere between $1500 and negative $1200?

If you reckon it’s a great deal, drop me an e-mail. I’ve got a special investment scheme you’ll love.

 

Odds of winning 4D, Toto and Singapore Sweep?

Toto

4D

Singapore Sweep

1st Prize

(Or Group 1 for Toto)

1 in 13,983,816

1 in 10,000

1 in 3,200,000

2nd Prize

(Or Group 2 for Toto)

1 in 2,330,636

1 in 10,000

1 in 3,200,000

3rd Prize

(Or Group 3 for Toto)

1 in 55,491

1 in 10,000

1 in 3,200,000

 

Just for the sake of reference, the odds of getting a Royal Flush in Poker, on the first 5 cards, is around 650,000 to 1. So with the exception of 4D, you might be better off just playing Poker. Or betting on the PGA tour. The odds of a pro-golfer getting a hole-in-one are 5000 to 1, around seven times more likely than winning Group 3 Toto.

 

Meteor striking earth
More probable than me winning 4D.

 

Pros and Cons

These are the upsides of investing in the lottery:

  • Ad-Hoc Payments – If you don’t have enough, just don’t play that month. This means you need less planning and discipline than if you used a regular investment scheme.
  • Affordability – Assuming you don’t get obsessed, you won’t feel the pinch of the lottery. The amount spent is small, unlike the monthly payments on an investment scheme.
  • Easy – No forms to sign, or documents to produce. Just buy a ticket, that’s it.
  • Fun – Some people use the lottery as a way to relieve stress or tension.

And the downsides:

  • Negative Growth – The longer you play the lottery, the more you actually lose. In almost all cases, there is a negative return on investment.
  • High Improbability – The odds of winning a prize, even enough to just break even, is very low.
  • Unpredictable Payouts – Some forms of lottery, like Toto, vary the prize money based on the number of winners. That means there’s no way to accurately determine the potential winnings.

So there you have it: the only check you’re going to get is a reality check. Highly improbable wins, with a worse Return on Investment than any financial plan on Earth. Which leaves one to wonder: would people actually invest more in banks if the advisers just threw up their arms and said: “Who knows? Just give us the money and we’ll randomly pay it out!”

Image Credits:

Kevin LimLydia SnyderZento Fitness, Universe Today

Do you have better or worse odds? Tell us in the comments!

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Ryan Ong

I was a freelance writer for over a decade, and covered topics from music to super-contagious foot diseases. I took this job because I believe financial news should be accessible and fun to read. Also, because the assignments don't involve shouting teenagers and debilitating plagues.