I'm not that in to gambling. I enjoy certain casino games for their social quality, though. When I play Blackjack, I'm constantly chatting with other players, with the dealer, and with the pit boss when they check to see whether or not I'm counting cards.[ref]For some things, I have a photographic memory. I can usually count cards pretty easily, but I'm playing for fun, not to beat the house.[/ref] When I play Poker, I'm constantly chatting with the other players - or at least the ones not faking World Poker Tour with their hoodies and reflective sunglasses.

Every now and then, I buy a lottery ticket. Not because I think I can win, but because maybe, just maybe, the stars will align and my number will come up. After all, my ticket has the exact same odds of winning as the lucky man or woman who actually does win.


My dad, on the other hand, has a system for playing the lottery. His game is Powerball, and after the jackpot reaches a certain level, I can bet on him having a ticket in his wallet.

The oddest thing is where that level happens to be.

In Oregon, you can play three lottery drawings - Powerball and Mega Millions are the two largest, as they're national pools of (often) several hundred million dollars. Megabucks is an Oregon-only lottery, and I can't remember ever seeing it break a 10-million dollar jackpot.

Honestly, even a half-million dollar win would be life-changing for either of us.

Still, my dad only plays the Powerball when the jackpot breaks $200 million. He says he'd rather win big than little, so he doesn't even bother with a ticket until after that threshold.

I don't get it.

Birthday Paradox

There's a paradox in statistics that states, in a room of 23 people, the chance that two people having the same birthday is 50%.

I'm not going to break down the statistics for you here, but just think about the implications of this number. Given 365 discrete possibilities, the chances any 2 people will line up exactly is 50% once the number of people involved breaks 23.

There are 259 million possible ticket number combinations for Powerball - there is a certain number where the probability that two people win the lottery at the same time reaches and exceeds 50%. As the jackpot goes up, so does the potential of collisions between winning ticket numbers.

So, if you want to win bigger, should you play the lottery when the jackpot is small (and more people are holding off for a larger payout)? Or should you wait until the jackpot reaches a certain level (and risk halving - or more - your potential winnings)?