For the past few weeks or so, many in the country were consumed by a sort of lotto fever. The PCSO 6/58 Ultra Lotto had gotten up to a record high jackpot prize of more than 1 billion PHP (roughly 20M USD – I know some lotteries in the US have prizes way higher than that, but hey, we’re not the US.) Many people who normally don’t play the Lotto were participating due to the sheer size of the pot. I must confess that even I bought a few tickets during the latter part of the run.
For reference, the Ultra Lotto draw has 6 numbers from a pool of 1-58 (hence “6/58”) drawn three times a week. Using the power of Math ™, that gives us roughly 40 million possible combinations. By comparison, the Avengers only had a 1 in 14 million chance of surviving the events of Infinity War, so that’s way worse odds and you don’t even have a time stone! The price of an individual ticket is 24 PHP, and 24 * ~40 million is ~960 million, so once the jackpot exceeded 1 billion PHP, the EV of a single lotto ticket was already a net positive. If only I had the 960 million and change to bet on every single combination!
I had actually started betting on the lotto sporadically since last year, mostly for fun. The first time you make a bet it’s kind of exciting. Suddenly you went from zero chance of being instantly rich to a nonzero chance! A ridiculously small, highly unlikely chance, but still a chance!
Once you’ve bet a few times though, the novelty kind of fades away after a while and you kinda feel silly, like you’re paying a tax for not understanding the probabilities right. (To be fair, I totally did understand the probabilities, I just chose to hope! How can it be wrong to choose hope!)
My last bet was the Friday before the jackpot was actually won, and the jackpot was already past 1 billion at that time. To be honest, it caused me a little bit of anxiety. Obviously winning all that money would be good, but in the Philippines suddenly becoming rich had it’s own share of risks, including security risks from less-than-honorable people finding out and targeting you for crimes. There was even a Reddit thread about it. (Yes, reading that thread didn’t help with the anxiety.) Luckily (what?) I didn’t end up winning.
The jackpot was eventually won last Sunday, Oct 14, split by two winners, bring the the dreams of a nation to an end. Almost immediately I read some conspiracy theories about how the whole thing was a setup and that the powers-that-be had purposely allowed the jackpot to get so high so more people would bet and then at the last minute they faked one of the winners so they could get the money and use it for the upcoming elections. Or something to that effect.
I must say however, that I don’t actually recommend regularly betting on the lotto. It’s popular in this country, even when the jackpot isn’t that high, I’m sure my dad has been regularly betting for decades now. Life is tough in this country and for many people the ridiculously low odds are about the same odds they face in daily life anyway so why not? But if you’re going to play the lotto, don’t delude yourself into thinking that you’re actually going to win.