*LARRY LESSER’S LOTTERY
LITERACY!*

In 1993, while a math education doctoral
student at The University of Texas at Austin, I saw and heard lots of lottery
misconceptions around town and felt called to teach an adult education course (for
UT-Austin Informal Classes) I created about the psychology and probability
underlying the then-months-old Texas Lottery.
The course happened to attract massive media coverage --from a story
spanning 37 column inches in the August 28 *Austin American-Statesman*
all the way to the lead ‘Dollars and Sense’ segment throughout that weekend’s
Cable News Network (CNN) Headline News! Subsequent stories have
often accompanied the times lotteries begin new games or amass particularly big
jackpots, including interviews for radio (e.g., Houston’s KTRH-AM, Atlanta’s
WGST-AM, Houston’s KFNC-FM, Austin’s KUT-FM, San Antonio’s WOAI-AM), TV (e.g.,
Austin’s ABC-affiliate KVUE-TV, El Paso’s KFOX-TV
and KVIA-TV) and national magazines (e.g., June 2005 *Real Simple* and December 2005 *Bottom
Line Retirement*). At The University of
Texas at El Paso, I taught an updated version of this course for PACE in 2006 and gave a lecture for UTEP’s
first Centennial Open House
in 2014.

In my interview
in the March 30, 2012 *El Paso Times*
discussing that day’s drawing for a record $640 million Mega Millions jackpot,
I offered these three ways to help the public visualize those 1 in 176 million
odds: “Imagine guessing a particular
sheet of typing paper from a stack that’s 11 miles high, keeping in mind that
Mount Everest is 5.5 miles above sea level and (movie director) James Cameron
just went seven miles below sea level. Another way to imagine it is to try to
remember one particular second from a 5.5-year time period or guess a
particular square inch from an area that's bigger than 21 football fields,
including end zones.” On October 22,
2013, Mega Millions changed the odds to 1 in 259 million, so I created a new
set of concrete analogies (e.g., when interviewed by KUT-FM’s Trey Shaar on Dec. 17, 2013: http://www.math.utep.edu/Faculty/lesser/ShaarKUT-FMinterviewDecember17,2013.mp3).

*SONG*** I wrote to educate about lotteries: ** **“The Gambler”**(http://www.causeweb.org/resources/fun/db.php?id=50) addresses strategies and myths for playing a state
lottery, and may be sung to the tune of the same-titled Don Schlitz song that
yielded Kenny Rogers a #1 country hit and TV miniseries.

*VIDEO*** on my
statistics education outreach on the lottery: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PxGRghzr5zo
**(this video won *first place*
in the SIGMAA-QL’s national 2011-12
“QL in the media” contest and the “Best Online Submission” prize in the 2014
ASA’s Got Talent
competition sponsored by the American Statistical Association.

*ARTICLES*** **** I
wrote for educators in five journals:**

*
(March 2013). Letter to the Editor: The
odds of academic usage of statistics terms in everyday contexts such as lotteries.
*Journal of Statistics Education*, *21*(1), __http://www.amstat.org/publications/jse/v21n1/Lesser_letter.pdf__

* (September 2012). Lottery
Lunacy [Media Clips], *Mathematics Teacher*,
*106*(2), 93-94. http://www.nctm.org/publications/article.aspx?id=33965 Using the motivating vehicle of a comic
strip, this column uses classroom-ready questions to explore the reality of
lottery-playing “strategies” such as tracking, wheeling, and pooling.

* (Winter 2004). Take a
Chance by Exploring the Statistics in Lotteries. *Statistics Teacher Network*, No. 65, 6-7.
The issue is also available at http://www.amstat.org/education/stn/pdfs/STN65.pdf.
This article
gives intuition for the magnitude of the MegaMillions
jackpot probability at that time (on 6/22/05, the jackpot probability became
even smaller: 1/175,711,536) and then goes on to show how a lottery can be used
to explore (with a TI-83 calculator) all the major topics of an introductory
statistics course.

* (Fall 2003). A Whole Lotto Education! *Texas** Mathematics Teacher*, *50*(2),
12-15. The issue is also
available at http://www.tctmonline.org/TMT_archive/TMT_2000s/TMT_2003_Fall.pdf.
This article describes
classroom explorations of the interpretation and calculation of probabilities
involved in Lotto Texas. TI-83/84
calculator commands are given for simulating drawings as well as for
calculating relevant probabilities using the binomial, geometric, Poisson, and
other distributions.

* (November 1997). Exploring Lotteries with
Excel. *Spreadsheet User*, *4*(2), 4-7. Spreadsheets are used
to explore the lottery, addressing common misconceptions about various lottery
"strategies" and probabilities and providing real-world applications
of topics such as discrete probability distributions, combinatorics,
sampling, simulation and expected value. Additional pedagogical issues
are also discussed. Examples discussed include the probability that an
integer appearing in consecutive drawings, the probability that a single 6-ball
drawing includes at least two consecutive integers, the probability that
exactly one person wins the jackpot, and the probability that a frequent player
eventually wins the jackpot.

* I’ve also published related letters in the August 2011 *Mathematics Teacher* and in mass media
such as the *Austin Chronicle* (5/14/93), *Houston Chronicle*
(6/12/04), *El Paso Times* (11/4/10),
etc.

**Official
Lottery WEBSITES**:

Mega Millions: http://www.megamillions.com/

PowerBall: http://www.powerball.com/

Texas Lottery Commission: http://www.txlottery.org

Lotto Texas: http://www.txlottery.org/export/sites/lottery/Games/Lotto_Texas/index.html

New Mexico Lottery: http://www.nmlottery.com/

**MISCELLANEOUS:**

2-minute movie with
lottery/probability: http://www.causeweb.org/resources/fun/db.php?id=226

Where Texas Lottery money goes: http://www.txlottery.org/export/sites/lottery/Supporting_Education/

“Straight Dope” on strategy (http://www.straightdope.com/classics/a4_119.html)
and prize payouts (http://www.straightdope.com/mailbag/mlottery.html)

*How to
Win More: Strategies for Increasing a Lottery Win*, probably the only book on lotteries I’ve found so
far that I’d recommend: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1568810784/002-6149190-5012835?v=glance&n=283155

Lottery scams: http://www.txlottery.org/export/sites/lottery/About_Us/Security_Spotlight/

See if you can find misconceptions here: http://www.smartluck.com/locations/tips/tx544.htm

How some people try to defend lotteries: http://www.naspl.org/

One way to make your own “quick-pick” of
numbers: http://www.random.org/sform.html

some articles for math lovers: http://www.lottery.state.mn.us/hypergeo.html,
www.amstat.org/publications/jse/v2n2/wasserstein.html,
www.amstat.org/publications/jse/v13n2/mecklin.html,
www.amstat.org/publications/jse/secure/v7n3/boland.cfm

Gambling help: http://www.txlottery.org/export/sites/lottery/Misc/Play_Responsibly.html

http://www.ehow.com/how_5500755_quit-lottery-ticket-gambling-addiction.html

Shirley
Jackson’s famous 1948 short story called “The Lottery”: http://www.americanliterature.com/Jackson/SS/TheLottery.html;
here’s a video adaptation by Larry Yust broken
into 2 nine-minute clips:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pIm93Xuij7k
then http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PMhV3fwx5Sg

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My UTEP homepage: http://www.math.utep.edu/Faculty/lesser/