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At $40-million, Canadians line up to work the odds

Globe and Mail Update

When lottery prizes move into record territory, even the most clear-eyed realists can be tempted.

McMaster University math and statistics professor Fred Hoppe has done the calculations, and he says the odds of winning the top prize are about one in 14 million.

That's roughly equal to flipping a coin and having it come up heads 23 or 24 times in a row, he said Wednesday.

But with the jackpot for Wednesday evening's Lotto 6/49 drawn topping $40-million — the biggest ever in a Canadian lottery — even he has a ticket in his breast pocket.


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"I normally don't," he said in an interview.

This time, however, with a jackpot of $40-million and a ticket price of $2, he said, it is worth a shot even if the odds are astronomical.

Plus, he was already at the gas station filling up and the lottery kiosk was right there.

"I figured, listen, for $2, it's a fair game. I don't expect to win."

According to lottery figures, the last time the jackpot neared these levels was in 2002.

On May 17 that year, the jackpot stood at $37.8-million. Two couples and two groups ultimately shared the prize. In total, 28 people took home at least a piece of the jackpot.

Don Pister, spokesman for the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Commission, said that, by 9:30 a.m. EDT, sales in Ontario alone for Wednesday's 6/49 draw had totalled $20-million with about 10 million tickets changing hands.

A total for all of the country will not be available until the time of the draw. With tickets sales continuing through the day, he said, it is likely the final tally will continue to climb.

"We expect it to grow considerably through the day, but we're not giving any kind of firm projection," he said.

Although many like to compare the odds of winning a lottery to the chances of being struck by lightning, Mr. Hoppe said it isn't really a fair comparison.

"Based on what people have observed in terms of how many people get struck by lightning, you're more likely to have that happen," he said.

"But it really is hard to compare the two. One is an event that is truly random. The other one, well not everybody lives in an area where you can be struck by lightning and not everyone is foolish enough to be on a golf course when the weather is pretty bad."

Still, those lottery hopefuls with champagne wishes and caviar dreams take hope. Your chances of winning improve as the prizes get smaller and you have to match fewer numbers.

"Oh, much better," he said.

The odds of hitting second place — matching five numbers and the bonus — are about 2.3 million to one, according to his calculations.

Latest Comments in the Conversation

Editor's Note: editors read and approve each comment. Comments are checked for content only, spelling and grammar errors are not corrected and comments that include vulgar language or libelous content are rejected.

  1. John Smith from Toronto, Canada writes: I recall a university professor telling me that lotteries were a tax on stupidity.But even stupid people like me should be entitled to the chance to dream...

    An INSIDER Edition subscriber

  2. J Weddell from Calgary, Canada writes: I guess if there was a sure way to win it wouldn't be called gambling....
  3. Beverley Klippenstein from Morden, Canada writes: I think all of us like to dream about what we would do if we won alot of money and can come up with manyfamily members, friends and agencies that could be helped. I personally think it would be better to have 40 one million dollar winners so there are more winners to share the wealth. It seems that those who have won huge amounts of money have not done so well in the handling of it.
  4. J Brown from Vancouver, Canada writes: As I stood watching the stream of people waiting to buy thier ticket out of their current state, I thought of how a 1 in 14 million chance was better  than zero.  Which is what I have found are closer to the odds of getting a decent paying job (i.e. one that gives someone enough to own the shelter over their heads, eat healthy, buy an education, and maybe even have a family)  in a country that has no opportunity left except maybe winning the lottery.
  5. jee jee from Kingston, Canada writes: Throw your $2 in the garbage.I'll be faster, easier, and more environmentally friendly.
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