Monday, June 1, 2015

The 1st ever lotto add-on: Are You Insured?

"Are you in good hands?";"Nationwide is on your side"; "Did the little piggy cry wee-wee-wee all the way home?"; and other insurance slogans. Though for the purposes of this article, insurance is not a contract one signs entitling them to money if things go wrong with their car, provided they pay their premiums. Rather, it's what the Rhode Island Lottery called the first add-on to a lotto game in America; introduced in Februrary 1981 as a part of their 4/40 Jackpot game. 4/40 Jackpot was itself a pioneer of sorts, a true rarity at the time: a computerized jackpot game. As far as I know, New Jersey's Pick-6 Lotto was the only other game of that kind in 1981 (New York's Lotto, I believe, was only partially computerized at the time).

Anyway, back to this add-on: the "insurance" feature. You see, 4/40 Jackpot tickets were, like pretty much every lottery game back then, $1 apiece. There was a bit of a catch to this game, though; if you bought a one dollar 4/40 ticket and did not match all four numbers, you won nothing! Zilch! Notta! Goose Eggs! All of the prize money raised from a $1 ticket went to the jackpot, leaving nothing for smaller prizes like most games. Presumbably realizing a backlash against a game with so few prize winners, those in control added something called "insurance", an extra dollar bet one made to give them a shot at smaller prizes; and while it didn't insure a win as the name suggested, it still helped out your odds quite a bit. Quite simply, plunking down an extra dollar gave you chance to win two additional prizes: $300 for matching 3 out of 4; and a free ticket (with insurance) for matching two. So, to recap: $1 buys you a chance at the jackpot; but you need another dollar to qualify for the other two prizes. Quite frankly, this all sounds like a bait and switch. It's almost like a car dealer selling you a car, only to tell you you have to buy the engine and tires separately.

Players didn't mind though; the game was successful and like most successful lotto games, they started adding numbers to make it harder to win. 4/40 Jackpot became 4/47 Jackpot in August 1983; in doing so raising the 3 of 4 insurance prize to $447, and adding a feature that turns the jackpot into an annuity if the jackpot reached $200,000. That in turn was replaced by Lot-O-Bucks in 1985; a 5/40 which kept both the insurance and annuity rule. The latter rule was a big reason why Lot-O-Bucks frequently had jackpots around $1,000,000. As for the insurance feature, it was still required to win non-jackpot prizes: four numbers won $450, three won $20, two still won a free ticket with insurance.

Lot-O-Bucks would run unchanged for another decade; then in 1995 it was replaced with a 5/30 called Rhody Cash, and unlike the games that came before it, you didn't need an extra dollar to win smaller prizes. The era of "insurance" was over; an era that no other state experienced. It could be said though that "insurance" would pave the way for the add-ons like Power Play and Megaplier we see today. You don't have to buy those add-ons in order to win a smaller prize (like you once did in Rhode Island), but it does increase those smaller prizes. You could say that they're spiritual successors to "insurance", successors that don't quite make you feel like a sucker.

Bonus: here are some newspaper ads heralding the 4/40 and 4/47 games upon their release. Look how big a deal they make quick-picks and multi-draws. Retroriffic! Warning: Big Files!

Friday, May 29, 2015

A little appetizer...

I've got a blast from the past coming up in my next blog; but until then, here's a little treat. Back in 1992, WFLA-TV in Tampa (that's channel 8 to you and me) aired a magazine-style special; and one of the, uh, "articles" was about the Florida Lotto. More specifically, it was about the people who changed the numbers on the Lotto billboards advertising the jackpots. Funny thing is, while most states converted to digital billboards (Georgia, IIRC, was digital from day one); Florida hung on to their manual signs well in to the 2000s. The Florida Lottery sure was slow to change.

Be sure to jump to 37:44 for the Lotto story; and before I forget, thanks to TVsmurphman for posting this in the first place.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Note to Pennsylvania Lottery players: Don't panic!

You may have noticed that the Pennsylvania Lottery changed the names of some of their games. The Daily Number is now Pick 3, Big 4 is now Pick 4, and Quinto is now Pick 5. Why did they do this? I don't know; maybe they wanted to provide more clarity, but this is probably going to cause more confusion. 

In any event, you should know that absolutely nothing else has changed about the games in question other than the name. You play exactly the same way. Say that to yourself out loud: 

"You play exactly the same way". 

Remember that, because you will undoubtedly encounter someone in your local Wawa or Sheetz who is lying in the fetal position because the Daily Number supposedly went away. Just tell them that it's just called Pick 3 now, nothing else has changed, "you play exactly the same way". Help out your fellow man.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Pick-6 Lotto (NJ) finally gets an add-on.

For a while now, most NJ lottery games have offered an add-on feature; a chance to win more provided you pay an extra dollar. Pick 3, Pick 4, and the recently ruined Jersey Cash 5 all have Instant Match, while the two multi-state mega jackpot games have their respective multipliers. Now, New Jersey's original jackpot game, Pick-6 Lotto, has a multiplier too. It's very similar to the Xtra feature in Florida's Lotto; in fact, New Jersey's version is also called Xtra. Pay an extra dollar, and you can multiply non-jackpot prizes between 2 and 5 times; and also win $2 cash by matching 2 numbers (something you can't do in the $1 version of Pick-6, and you still can't do in Jersey Cash 5).

I'm not sure if I can recommend this, though. As of yet, there have been no indications about the odds of a particular multiplier coming up. Maybe once I see the drawing, I could find out. My guess is that there's an equal chance of any multiplier coming up, but there's no guarantee. Tennessee's ill-fated Lotto Plus had a multiplier heavily weighted towards the lowest factor, 2x. This created a situation where adding the extra dollar would actually raise the house edge, from 50% for the $1 base game, to about 58% (IIRC) once you added the Plus feature. Hopefully, New Jersey hasn't done this and has created an equitable multiplier scheme. Multipliers are good bets if they're done right.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Monopoly Millionaires' Club: What went wrong?

Happy New Year. Your 2014 had to have been better than the one MUSL had, which by all accounts completely whiffed on their Monopoly Millionaires' Club game. The lottery industry seemed down right stoked, the idea of mainstreaming the $5 price point to lotto games; this had only been tried once in South Carolina, with dismal results. However, players did not share in the enthusiasm. Sales were so bad that they pulled the plug after 10 drawings; they simply weren't selling enough tickets to pay for the promised prize amounts. There was a massive rolldown in Pennsylvania where, for example, a 2-number match paid out $97.50 and matching just the property won $135.50 (which I managed to do, yay me). I'm not sure how much of the jackpot Pennsylvania recieved, and in turn paid back to players, but no other states did the same thing. I'd be pretty angry if was a player in one of the other states.

Setting the high price aside, the game was pretty meh. The gimmick of the game was twofold; a chance to win one of several million dollar prizes when the jackpot was won, and a webcode to enter for a chance to appear on a game show. Other than that, it was just Powerball-type game: pick 5 from 52 and one of the 28 Monopoly properties. Except, you could only pick the first five numbers; the property was always a quick pick. You see, the game show qualifying game was a collect-and-win type of deal, not unlike the Monopoly contests McDonald's does. If you entered your webcode, the property on your ticket would be placed on the "board". Get all the properties of a certain color (or all the Railroads) and you win entries. Allowing players to pick their own properties would mean that players could just pick either Boardwalk or Park Place on each ticket, and guarantee themselves several entries every time (not to mention putting the lottery on the hook for much more prizes if Boardwalk or Park Place came up). Good reasoning aside, players like to able to pick their own numbers (or properties), and I'm sure requiring quick pick for the property number kept some people away.

The second "problem" was the jackpot. Any excess jackpot money would go towards those extra million dollar prizes. The idea was to have potentially 100 or more individual million dollar prizes; but to pay for that, the jackpot was capped at $25 million, annuity value. People get excited about big jackpots, and little else. To get someone who's still getting used to $2 Powerball to now plunk down $5 for, at most, $25 mil, you can see why the lotteries were facing an uphill battle. Perhaps the hope was that players would, instead, get excited about being one of 100 or more million dollar winners. With sales the way the were, it could have taken at least a year of losses to get to that point, provided no one won the jackpot in the meantime.

The third problem, computerized drawings. People don't like them, and they never will.

The fourth problem, and the biggest one, is the price. People will pay $5 for a lottery ticket; it's the most popular price point for scratch-offs, in fact. In turn, you need to provided added value: better overall odds; a larger top prize; and most importantly, a higher return percentage (which people notice, albeit indirectly). $5 scratch-offs do all of that, but MMC provided no real added value, instead depending on gimmicks like webcodes. The overall odds were roughly the same as a typical pick-5 with a match 2 prize; the top prize was capped at $25 mil; and the payout percentage was the same as Powerball and Mega Millions, 50% of sales, three-fifths of which go to the jackpot.

If lotteries want people to pay more, then they have to pay more. They are thinking about bringing the game back with some tweaks, but one of those needs to be a higher payout percentage, at least 60% of sales. The extra money can go towards the million dollar raffle prizes, it can go towards higher jackpots, maybe an instant win feature; it can go anywhere, really. Just raise the payouts to loosen the game up. Players will notice.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Powerball changing again...

Not much to say at this point in time, as usual lottery officials are tight-lipped even amongst themselves. There are a few things I can say for sure. Florida has already begun drawing down advance play in preparation for an April 12th launch date. As for the game itself: according the New Hampshire lottery's meeting minutes from October, the odds of winning will be getting longer (as if there was any doubt). The odds will go to about 1 in 285 million. That should translate to 66 white balls and 32 Powerballs in the new matrix, at least my calculations say so. Also, and I may have read the meeting minutes wrong, but it sounds like the multiplier feature will now be included in the base Powerball game: any prize below the 3rd tier (4 white + 1 PB) will be subject to the multiplier at no additional charge. A different $1 add-on will be available, no word on what that might be.

A lot is still uncertain, and what I said above might change between now and next Spring. One concern I have regards the price. It seems unlikely with the increased matrix, but I can't say for sure if the base price will remain $2. It probably will, but anything's possible. Plus, there are a lot of variables regarding the now-integrated PowerPlay, how the new $1 add-on will work, and what changes will be made to the prize levels. Could there be another change to the jackpot annuity structure? After all, it's just there at this point to inflate the advertised prize; it's become the lottery version of the 9/10ths of cent on gas prices. I digress, though; we'll all just have to stay tuned!

Monday, June 23, 2014

Mega Money "ending" in Florida

I put in the parentheses because the game isn't actually ending in the truest sense. More than anything it's just changing it's name, as if it was a purple-loving musician from Minnesota. Instead of Mega Money, it will now be called Lucky Money. The game for the most part is the same; it's still a pick 4+1 format, the jackpot is still capped at $2,000,000 and any money in excess of that still rolls down to the other amounts, and it's still $1. The only changes are in the matrix; instead of 44 main balls and 22 mega balls, there will now be 47 main balls and 17 "lucky" balls; plus EZmatch will now be available. The result of the matrix change is slightly better overall odds, but roughly the same odds of winning the jackpot. The new top prize odds are 1 in 3,032,205; just a slight increase from Mega Money's odds of 1 in 2,986,522. 

Clearly this change is being made for one reason, and one reason only: people were confusing Mega Money with Mega Millions. No one at the lottery had any reason to believe there was anything wrong with the game; that's why they made such comparatively small changes. Take a look at the new prize structure and compare it to Mega Money.

MatchAvg. PrizeOdds
Match 4+1Jackpot1:3,032,205
Match 4+0$2,1701:189,513
Match 3+1$3401:17,629
Match 3+0$601:1,102
Match 2+1$221:559.6
Match 1+1$31:61.43
Match 2+0$21:34.98
Match 0+1Free Ticket1:24.57
Overall Odds: 1 in 11.32

I for one am glad they aren't making radical changes. Mega Money was fine as is; the format is a variant on the Winfall format that was exploited in Massachusetts, only this has little to incentivise future schemers. Despite the lack of exploitability, it's still a format that can benefit the smart player. Mega Money will live on, just with a new name.


Friday, July 26, 2013

New England Lucky For Life changes. Everybody loves a (near) winner.

It been a little more than a year since Lucky For Life launched, the realization of a decades-long push for a New England-wide lottery game (beginning with talks of pushing Tri-State Megabucks into CT, MA, and RI in the 80's). It seems to be reasonably popular, I saw a few LfL tickets being bought when I was in Providence a while back; and there's already plans for a second New England game (possibly a merger of Tri-State Megabucks, Mass. Megabucks, and CT Lotto).

In the meantime, changes are afoot for the young game, with those changes coming on line September 17th. The game will have three more balls in the white ball field, and twenty-two more lucky balls; giving the game 43 numbers in each field. As a result, the game is about to get harder to win; overall odds being increased modestly to about 1 in 8, but top prize odds going up almost threefold to about 1 in 41 million (up from about 1 in 14 mil).

What are these changes for? Bigger lower tier prizes? Maybe $1,000,000/year for life? Odds like this could support such a prize.

No, that'd be too obvious. All of these extra numbers are being added for big increases to the second prize. That's right, not the lower tier prizes, not the jackpot, the second prize. It will go up from $25,000 cash, to $25,000 cash per year for life. A few other prizes are getting modest increases to compensate for the longer odds (new prize amounts are underlined):

Match Prize Odds
Match 5+1 $7,000/week/life 1:41,391,714
Match 5+0 $25,000/year/life 1:985,517
Match 4+1 $3,000 (from $2K) 1:217,851.13
Match 4+0 $150 (from $100) 1:5,186.93
Match 3+1 $100 (up from $50) 1:5,887.87
Match 3+0 $10 1:140.19
Match 2+1 $20 (up from $15) 1:490.66
Match 2+0 $2 1:11.68
Match 1+1 $5 1:112.15
Match 0+1 $4 1:82.46
Overall Odds: 1 in 8.607

Yeah, that second prize is getting a big boost; but very few other prizes are going up that much. The top prize and four of the bottom five prizes aren't going up at all. The prize for matching just the Lucky Ball is staying pat at $4, despite being twice as hard to win; and as I mentioned before winning the grand-a-day-for-life is getting almost three times harder to win. You can see just how much emphasis is being put on this new runner-up prize by comparing the percentages of sales that go towards each prize:

Prize Level Old New
Match 5+1 27.81% 10.27%
Match 5+0 1.81% 27.90%
Match 4+1 1.27% 0.69%
Match 4+0 1.27% 1.45%
Match 3+1 1.08% 0.85%
Match 3+0 4.31% 3.57%
Match 2+1 3.55% 2.04%
Match 2+0 9.47% 8.56%
Match 1+1 4.74% 2.23%
Match 0+1 4.7% 2.43%

If you're not good with numbers, let me break that down. Nearly half of the prize pool (60% of sales) is going to the second prize. Second prizes have usually been the most neglected when it comes to dividing the take. Powerball turned that around last year by putting almost a fifth of the prize pool into the $1,000,000 second prize. That may not be as much of the pool as the jackpot gets, but it's way more than the other prizes get. LfL has now decided that even the top prize should take a back seat to the second prize; and about that prize, $25,000 per year is not that much money, especially after Uncle Sam gets his cut. They sacrificed every other prize category so they could do this. Granted, you can get a lump-sum in this version which you couldn't before; but that's doesn't help much because despite increased odds, the other prizes are pretty much staying where they are. Solid A game, about to go down a whole letter grade. I give this new LfL is a B-.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Mega Millions Update!

As you may have heard, Mega Millions is going through some changes, with sales beginning October 19th and the first drawing the following Tuesday. Information has been slowly trickling in as the date approaches; but a little research uncovered all the juicy details. First the prizes and odds:
Yes, I did make that graphic, don't expect it to be a regular thing. But back to the topic at hand. As you can see it's a much different prize structure than it is now, but you can still win the same ways as now.

Also, while it is different, there is familiar tinge. The lower 4 prize levels are the same prize amounts as MM's predecessor The Big Game, albeit with different odds. For example, the odds of winning $5 in the last version of The Big Game were 1 in 156. Winning $5 here has overall odds of 1 in 292. On the flip side, winning a buck for matching the Mega Ball by itself will have odds around 1 in 21, compared to 1 in 62 in the old Big Game.

Now, take a look at those odds. As mentioned earlier, they're going to be massive; though as I mentioned in a previous post the odds of winning the jackpot with two $1 Mega Millions tickets will still be better than your odds of winning with one $2 Powerball. And overall odds will be better, 1 out of roughly 15 tickets will win something.

The best part of the changes, however, come with the Megaplier. Not only is it sticking around, but a 5x multiplier will be added. So while winning 2nd prize has roughly the same odds as winning a 6-from-51 lotto, the prize with Megaplier is like a 6-number lotto, too; one can win up to $5,000,000 cash if they add the Megaplier. Here are the odds of each factor for those interested:
While matching the Mega Ball has a disproportionate amount of importance (odds of winning without the Mega Ball: 1 in 704), there are only 15 of them and the overall odds of winning are not far from a larger pick-5 game. The Megaplier makes this game even more attractive, with bigger multipliers it's not unlike the old $1 Powerball. However, the odds of winning the bigger prizes keep it from really jumping out at me as a game to get excited about. That said, this is not a bad change either; which is good because one game out there is undergoing a needlessly bad change. More on that later...

What is the deal with All Or Nothing?

Sounds a bit like a Jerry Seinfeld routine, doesn't it? But still, what's up with that? It was here for a while and then it went away. Not cancelled like so many other games, just suspended; the game had a rather nasty flaw in it, or so they said. Some people on Lottery Post immediately assumed it was a flaw that benefited players, hence the reason behind the suspension.

Actually, this isn't altogether untrue; players could have benefited from this, but only in rare circumstances. You see the All or Nothing rules as originally written placed no limits on how much could be paid out in a particular draw. This is common practice in games with fixed payouts; for example in Virginia, if more than 20 people match all the numbers in Cash 5 they all split $2,000,000 (the $100K top prize times 20). This way the lottery won't be on the hook for too much if a popular combo comes up (say, 1-2-3-4-5).

However there was nothing protecting Texas from such an event in All or Nothing. If a popular combo came up like all odds or all evens (which can be bought with just one tick on a play slip), then Texas would owe all of those players $250,000. And that could really be troubling if, say, a thousand people had all the winning numbers (that's $250 million cash they'd owe, if you're counting at home).

The proposed rule change would cap the number of top prizes in a single All or Nothing draw to twenty. That would mean up to 20 people could win the full $250 grand, and if more than 20 won, they'd all split $5,000,000. That's a pretty generous payout for a niche game like this. One question remains, what's taking so long? It's been almost two months, and still no word on when it's coming back. How long does it take to get an emergency rule change done? I guess we'll find out, someday.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Ball drawings coming back to Indiana!

I haven't posted anything in a while, as I've been in the process of moving. But one tidbit has caught my eye that needs to be said and it's pretty good news. The Hoosier (Indiana) Lottery recently put multi-state draws back on Indianapolis Fox affiliate WXIN. But the announcement page also had a very important line there as well, which reads:

"Plus, live Daily 3 and Daily 4 drawings will be coming this fall!".

Now when I first read that, I thought they meant the cartoon drawings that Tennessee and Minnesota have. Indiana has had computerized drawings for several years now. However one line the procurement presentation (.pdf file) confirms what is very good news:

"Drawing equipment (machines, numbered ball sets, random number generator, etc.) for conducting the Daily 3 and Daily 4 draws."

It does mention a random number generator, but that is probably to be used for selecting the aforementioned machines and ball sets; and it appears that the other games (Hoosier Lotto, for example) will remain computerized for the time being. But this is fantastic news for players in Indiana, whose computerized draws were once a popular gripe on Lottery Post (more so than other RNG states). It's also good for players everywhere else. This is the first time ever that a lottery has switched back to balls after going computerized; and this could mark a precedent for other computerized draws to change back to balls, as well.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Less bang for your buck on Illinois Lotto (and a lot of other games).

Ever since Northstar took over the Illinois Lottery, they have had little reservations about changing things. They just added a midday drawing to Lucky Day Lotto, the first time I've ever seen a game with a rolling jackpot going twice a day. A less revolutionary, but no less big change is coming to Lotto in July. The price is being "raised" from two plays for $1, to just one play for $1 (or $2 if you add Extra Shot). In addition, a new prize category will be added to the base Lotto game, a $1 prize for matching two numbers, plus all of the other prizes are also going up. The game will be keeping it's 6/52 matrix, and Extra Shot will still have 25 numbers. Illinois' website has all of the further details, so I don't see a need to repeat it here.

This is not the first time Illinois Lotto went from two to one plays for $1. Back in 1997, Lotto went to a 6/48 with an all-cash jackpot (hence the tag line "All the Money, All at Once."); going to one play for $1 and adding a match three prize (a free $1 scratch-off). This was presumably a failure as a little more than a year later the game went back to two plays for a buck, with that format running to this day (though as previously mentioned, not for much longer). New York also did something similar to their Lotto around this time, going to a 6/51 with one play for $1. This was also a dud as they went back to a two for a buck format, the 6/59 currently running now (and knowing the New York Lottery, probably for another decade).
The New York Lottery game development department.
Illinois is getting a better deal with this price increase than most other games have. When Powerball went to $2, for example, nearly all of that extra dollar went to either the jackpot or the new $1 million match 5 prize. The lower tier prizes stayed pretty much the same, and the Powerplay lost a lot of the "power" it had to increase those smaller prizes. With the old Powerplay you could have won up to $35 for matching 3, or up to $500 for matching 4. Respectively, $14 and $200 was the least you could win; now that's the most you can win, even with the extra dollar in price.

Canadians were the first to get this treatment back in 2004, when Lotto 6/49 went from a Loonie to a Toonie (aren't I the currency aficionado?). Aside from the new 2+Bonus prize, all the extra money went to the jackpot; the other lower tier prizes stayed exactly the same on average. To be fair, the 6/49 jackpots were pretty low compared to what they are now; but nothing extra for any of the other winners seems like a bit of a snow job.
...and the last thing Canadians need is another Snow Job.
Since then, Lotto Super 7 went from $2 to $5, becoming Lotto Max in the process. The other prizes did actually get bigger that time, so it was less painful than before. Lotto 6/49 is due to go to $3 later this year; and other than a free ticket for 2 out of 6, and a million dollar raffle for each draw, no other changes seem to be planned. Hopefully, players might actually get some real added value this time, instead of just bigger jackpots (and free tickets).

Oh, and before I forget, the British national Lotto is also due to go up to £2, or about US$3. So there's that, too. Getting rich quick isn't as cheap as it used to be.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Oregon fights jackpot fatigue: Players win.

How many of you out there buy Powerball tickets at the minimum $40 mil jackpot? Yeah, me neither. This is a symptom of what's know in the lotto biz as "jackpot fatigue", when players expect bigger jackpots and don't see the need to throw their money at smaller figures. Well, if you live in Oregon, there's now a little bonus for playing small ball. When the Powerball jackpot is at $40 million, buying a PB ticket gets you a free Mega Millions quick pick. There appears to be no limit, and that is apparently the case regardless of what the Mega Millions jackpot is. Just make sure that if you decide to take up the Oregon Lottery on it's offer, that you buy your Powerball tickets one at a time; because if you might buy more than one PB on a single ticket, you'll still only get the one MM.

This begs the question, how else can lotteries fight jackpot fatigue? What would get you to buy at a "low" jackpot?

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Mega Millions: a quarter-billion to 1?!

First blog in quite a while, so there's a lot to talk about. CA Powerball players getting shortchanged (sometimes); Japan added a new game, I know a few people might be interested in that; plus I'm still meaning to write a few articles on lotteries in other countries, as well as one on the worst games of all time. Oh, and Illinois is changing Lucky Day Lotto to a twice-a-day game. I've never seen a jackpot game anywhere have two draws a day. That could be interesting.

But if I write one lottery blog this year, I'll make it about the changes Mega Millions will be going through this October. I heard on Lottery Post a little while ago that Michigan was drawing down the length of multi-draws that can be bought, a telltale sign that changes are being made (which makes sense with Florida finally in the game). I figured one of two things would happen: either they would cede the big jackpot crown to Powerball and go for a game that's easier to win, or really jack up the odds to bring it up to PB's level without changing the price. Apparently, it will be the latter. The game will be adding 19 white balls to the mix, bringing the number of white balls to 75! That's a lot of balls (I'm not going there, make your own joke). Though, to temper the mass of numbers on that end, the number of Mega balls are going down, from 46 down to just 15! That's very important regarding what the smaller prizes could end up being, but that's just speculation and I'll save that for the end.

What we know for sure is very little. The odds of winning the jackpot are going way, WAY up; from about 1 in 175 million, to just under 259 million to 1. But the price will remain at a dollar; and if you compare the odds of winning with $2 worth of tickets (1 in 129 million), it's still lower than the odds of winning Powerball on a $2 play (1 in 175 million). The odds of matching 5 white balls are also going way up, to 1 in about 18 and half million. That's more than a lot of in-state lotto games. Apparently, the prize for that will be $1 million, which would only take about 5.4% of sales to support, so the other prizes won't take as big a hit as Powerball's did when it went to $2 (up to $35 for matching 3 with $2 Powerplay, to no more than $14 with $3 PP now, what a joke).

That brings me to smaller prizes, namely, the smallest prizes. The article quotes a South Dakota official saying that the overall odds will stay at 1 in 40. Well, I've crunched the numbers, and I don't see how that's possible. If the prize structure remains like it is now, with a prize for matching just the Mega ball, or 3 or more white balls without the Mega ball, the overall odds of winning any prize would be roughly 1 in 14. Maybe the writer of the article misheard the number 14 and thought it was 40. That could be, but there are a couple of other scenarios. One is that the Mega ball-only prize is replaced with a prize for 2 white balls (without the MB), that would bring the overall odds to 1 in 20. The other premise is the ninth prize is ditched altogether, with no prize for matching just the MB or for just 2 white balls. The overall odds then would be 1 in 47. Those are the scenarios; call me cynical, but my money is on the ninth prize being ditched enitrely. The lottery officials probably want Mega Millions to appear "cheaper", so make it harder to win the jackpot, or to win anything. But I could be wrong.

And one other thing, what's going to happen to the Megaplier? I'm pretty sure it will still be around, I'm very curious what changes, if any, will be made. Could we see a $4,000,000 prize for 5 white balls? That would certainly disprove my thesis about making it look "cheaper". I don't know what's going through their minds right now, not much went through their minds when the re-designed Powerball; hopefully they'll show some brains with Mega Millions. Tell me what you think in the comment section below, I think more comments might motivate me to write more blogs. Fire away.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Changes to Hot Lotto & Wild Card 2

MUSL has been busy this year. They launched a new (but not improved) Powerball, and they've worked on changes on two of their other multi-state games. Wild Card 2 and Hot Lotto will both look different in 2013, I'll start with Wild Card 2 as it will be changing first (and very soon).

The changes will happen on January 13th, and they will be pretty modest. The amount of white numbers will increase to 33 (up from 31). The minimum jackpot will also double to $200,000. But other than a few other prize increases to account for the longer odds, not much else is changing. The states offering the game will still be the small club it is now; you'll still get two plays for $1; drawings will still be Wednesday and Saturday; and the field of Wild Cards will still just consist of the 16 face cards. Here are the new prizes and odds:

MatchPrizeOdds (per $1)
5+WCAvg. $457,0001:1,898,688
WC Only$11:19
Overall Odds (per $1): 1:6.67

Later on this year, Hot Lotto will also be changing. That will happen, tenatively, on May 12th; and they'll be a bit more radical than the changes to Wild Card. While the game will still have the same draw days and the same price; the jackpot prize will look very different. Instead of being a 25-year annuity; the advertised jackpot will now be the lump sum amount, after taxes. The amount you see on the billboard (if Hot Lotto had billboards) would be what you'd actually get if you won.

But that jackpot will be a lot harder to win; three times harder, in fact; as the amount of white balls will increase from 39 to 47. However, the number of "Hot" balls will still stay at 19; so the overall odds of winning a prize won't increase much.  The Sizzler will also stay, and will still triple all prizes. The new prize structure is as follows:

MatchPrizeOdds (per $1)
5+HBAvg. $5.7 mil*1:29,144,841
HB Only$21:34
Overall Odds (per $1): 1:17.22
*Lump sum, after 25% federal tax.
State taxes not included in calculation.

As you may have noticed, there's still a matter of state taxes; that's going to create an interesting wrinkle. Because states have different tax rates (or none at all), many of the Hot Lotto states might be advertising different jackpots (as they will be advertising the after-tax prize). For example; in Delaware, where lottery winnings are not subject to state tax, they could advertise a jackpot of $2 million; but in Minnesota, which has a 7.25% state tax, they could be advertising a jackpot of about $1.8 million for the same draw. Now, I'm not sure if this is how it really will be; but quite frankly, I don't see a way around it. Could be something to ask MUSL about.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

New Feature coming to Lotto Texas

In my opinion, the best add-on to a game anywhere is the Xtra feature in Florida Lotto. It not only betters your odds of winning something, but it also raises your expected return from 50% to 60%.

Well, something very similar is coming to Lotto Texas, according to a rules change proposal. It will increase non-jackpot prizes as well as a prize for matching 2 numbers (provided you pay the extra dollar). The difference is that instead of a multiplier, each prize category will have a set prize amount. In addition, matching 2 out of 6 will win $2 cash (Florida pays out a free Lotto ticket with Xtra). The actual amounts are as follows:

6/6Not Applicable
5/6Regular Prize + $10,000
4/6Regular Prize + $100

Now when this is launched, should you buy it? That is, should you pay the extra dollar? This does raise your rate of return, but only to 51.85%. But considering Lotto Texas contributes less than 10% of sales to lower tier prizes, I'd say Extra is a good buy. Much more of your money will go towards the lower tier prizes (the prizes you might actually win); and along with the $2 prize, getting Extra will play to your advantage.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Future Blogs

These are some of the blogs that you can look for in the coming weeks, or months, or whenever I have time to post something.
  • Another review of international lotteries; likely either Brazil or Spain.
  • My countdown of the the 5 worst lottery games of all time!
  • My review of Ontario's new lotto game that replaced Rock-Paper-Scissors.
If you have another idea for a future blog, leave a comment below!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Florida (Lottery) Turns 25: Nostalgia Time!

What got me to be so fascinated with the lottery world? Fascinated enough to actually to go through to the trouble to actually start a blog. Like most people's personal fascinations, this goes back to my early childhood. So when I visited the Florida Lottery's website and saw their 25th anniversary "festivities" and the "revival" of their first instant game Millionaire, I couldn't help think of my memories of the Florida Lottery's early years, which closely paralelled my early years.

I grew up outside Tampa; and from the time Florida's Lotto started up, it was a weekly tradition for my dad to go to the local Presto store and buy 5 Lotto tickets. And back in those days, you would literally get 5 singular tickets, you didn't get one ticket with several lines like you do now. It may have been a little inconvenient, but they had a series of some pretty cool art on the head of ticket. I've seen old Minnesota and Pennsylvania tickets with something similar, as they used the same model of lottery computer. But they never looked as cool as the pictures on Florida's tickets. Sadly though, this is probably something we'll never see on lottery tickets again.

But there's one thing that would really drive the lottery player of today crazy. For the first couple of years of Florida Lotto, there was no quick pick. You came up with your own six numbers, or you didn't play. The strange thing is, this wasn't a common thing even then. By the time Florida got it's computerized games in 1988, most other states had quick pick. Florida wouldn't get it until 1990. So what did my dad do to pick his numbers? He got out the Rack-O game. This was a game where you had to put numbered cards in a sequence; or something like that, I never played it. But my dad used it to pick numbers by shuffling the cards (the ones numbered 1-49, anyway), and just drawing them one at a time, marking the number on the play slip. Sound fun? Well, it may have been slightly more engaging than a quick pick; but my dad was still pretty glad when quick pick came along.

It was hard not to notice the Florida Lottery's presence. There were Lotto billboards everywhere, with manual numbers that were changed without fail every Sunday morning (and Thursday morning after the second draw was addded). That was one of many touches that the first lottery director, Rebecca Paul, put on the new venture. She knew how to give a lottery charm, and did an equally good job of it when she started Georgia's lottery.

But my fondest memory of the Florida Lottery was the drawings! Watching the balls bouncing around was one of the coolest things my pre-pubecent eyes had ever seen. Bouncing here and there, and then one pops up, followed by another, and then another. My dad would sit there, hoping the numbers on the balls matched the ones on his tickets. I didn't have a ticket, nor would I for nearly two decades, but I enjoyed that one minute as much as anybody. So much so, I even made a point to watch the Illinois drawings on WGN. I didn't get to watch these very often though, as they aired just before the late news (on WTVT, channel 13, back when they were a CBS affiliate). And you can't let a small child stay up until 11 when he has kindergarten in the morning.
Florida is still one of the better lotteries out there; though after Rebecca Paul left, the lottery became very conservative in their approach compared to other large state's lotteries. Lotto was one of the biggest games in the country for several more years, but the rest of the lottery became very stale. The lottery remained one of the most conservative lotteries up until the mid-2000s, but in recent years Florida's been one of the more aggressive in terms of offering innovative games. However, they are still very wary of multi-state games. They were the last state lottery to not have a multi-state game until they joined Powerball in 2009. And they are still the only lottery to not offer Mega Millions, and they have no plans to join up to this point.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

CA Powerball Update

The CA Lottery seemed pretty eager to tell everyone about the upcoming launch of Powerball. They made their press release pretty soon after the announcement. If you want to see the press release, click here. But the basic jist of the story is that Powerball will become available in CA on April 8th of next year. The release also says that the prize pool will be pari-mutuel, like SuperLotto Plus and Mega Millions (in California).

I looked at the proposed rules, and there was no mention of PowerPlay; so I can safely say that it won't be available in CA. I thought that with the multiplier gone, and with all PowerPlay prizes the same for each draw; I figured that this could be adapted for pari-mutuel payouts. But the 5/5 prize would probably have a hard time keeping near the $2,000,000 prize all the other states get. In fact, I'd bet that if they had a pari-mutuel PowerPlay available, a 5/5 winner might only get an increase of around $50,000 (if there was a winner in the prior draw). That wouldn't go over too well. So while I thought there might be a possibility of PowerPlay being available in CA, I'm not surprised that they decided to pass on it.

This scheme does provide for a very interesting prospect for the 5/5 prize. It will roll over when there is no winner, like Mega Millions does in CA. Mega Millions has had a few 5/5 "mini-jackpots" worth over $1,000,000. And that's with no Megaplier, and no extra money wagered. However, there have been 5/5 winners that have won significantly less than the quarter-million offered in other states. So it's a double-edged sword, and this will also be the case with Powerball.

The 5/5 prize pool will probably have somewhere in the neighborhood of $500K with each draw, more if the main jackpot is big. So if someone is to win $1 million+ by matching 5/5, there will likely need to be a lack of 5/5 winners the previous draw. If there are 5/5 winners in consecutive draws, they will almost certainly win less than $1 million, probably much less. But there is an upside with the rollover rule. If there's a string of draws with no 5/5 winners, a 5/5 win will net a lot more than $1 million (to a single winner, of course). I wouldn't be surprised to see a 5/5 prize pool of $3,000,000 or more somewhere down the line. Will somebody actually win that much? Nobody knows, but I can say this is definately a fun wrinkle to CA's Powerball.

Friday, November 30, 2012

New feature in Illinois Lotto

I don't know how I missed this one for this long, but Illinois added a new feature to Lotto called "Extra Shot". Before I talk about this, take a look at the new logo for the game. Doesn't it kind of look like a logo for a downmarket supermarket that's trying to project a "fresh" image? But in reality, most of their meat and produce is either rotten or poor quality. I don't know, I look too much into graphic design.

Fortunately, this is not a supermarket, but a pretty decent addition to an already decent game. For an extra dollar for two plays, you get an extra number (always quick-picked) between 1 and 25 on each line. Match that number to the winning "extra shot" number, and you win. In essence, this changes the game into a Powerball-type game if you decide to play this extra feature.

So for example, if you match 0, 1, or 2 of the Lotto numbers, you wouldn't win as usual. But you would win if matched the "extra shot". So if you match no Lotto numbers and the "extra shot" you would win $5, you would win $2 if you matched 1 and the ES, and 2 and the ES wins $10. If you match 3, 4, or 5 of the Lotto numbers without the ES, you win the base Lotto prize for that match. But if you match 3, 4, or 5 and the ES, you win the base prize multiplied by 25. So a 3+ES match would win $75, for example.

You could technically also match all 6 numbers and the ES, but that would not win anything beyond the jackpot. And the odds of doing that would be 1 in 508,963,000; so I wouldn't call that a flaw. Nobody's going to do that.

What I would call a flaw is that fact that matching no numbers and the ES pays out more money than matching 1+ES. If I had to make a list of rules for lottery directors, one of those rules would be to "never pay out less for one prize if it's harder to win than a larger prize". The odds of winning $2 on a 1+ES match is one in 62 (on a single line). It's easier to match 0+ES at 1 in 54 odds, but that wins more money than a 0+ES match at $5.

In layman's terms, they pay out less money for matching more numbers. That kind of irks me, and is a flaw in an otherwise decent addition. I think they might have been better off going with some sort of multiplier (like the Megaplier or Florida Lotto with Xtra).