Russell Lyons and Richard Bradley, both mathematics professors, debunk (and validate) several gambling myths to explain how probability plays into the lottery and our personal betting behavior.

TRUE

Richard Bradley: “Technically it’s true, but the more you play, the more you can expect to lose, and the more money you can expect to be throwing away. The main thing to underline in all this is the amount of money paid out by the lottery over the long run is quite a bit less than the amount of money put in.”

TRUE

RB: “Again, it may be very close to being correct depending on how the lottery is set up, but again you’re throwing away twice as much money if you don’t win. In the long run, you can expect to lose more.”

Russell Lyons: “This is true assuming the chance of winning is very small.”

FALSE

RB: “This is completely false. Although, in a casino, there have been cases where the wheels were not balanced quite perfectly. Some really bright students from the California Institute of Technology were able to observe over many weeks discrepancies in how often numbers came up, and they were able to win a small amount in the long run from that.”

RL: “To say a number is bound to come up eventually is slightly misleading. You can say the same thing no matter what number you bet on. You can bet on a different number each time, and the chance of winning is the same as you betting on the same number each time. This is unless the wheel is unbalanced, and that can happen. When the wheel is spun, there is no effect from the previous outcomes on what’s going to happen this time.”

Myth 4: I should choose numbers that other people are less likely to select.

TRUE

RL: “This will not change the chance of you winning, but it will increase the amount you win. You would have fewer people or no people to share the winnings with. So how do you choose a number that other people are not going to choose? Your picks are not completely random. People would have similar thought processes. Instead, it’s really better to choose completely at random.”

FALSE

Myth 6: If a slot machine hasn’t paid out in a while, it is “due” soon. In other words, some machines are hotter than others.

FALSE, most of the time

RL: “This could be true if there are machines designed in such a way that if it hasn’t paid out in a while, it will soon, but I just don’t know if those exist. If it is purely probabilistic each time, independent from the past, then by definition that’s going to mean that the chance of winning now has no relation to how long it’s been since it paid out the last time or by how much.

“People do have the misconception that it does balance out, but the way it balances out is not in this particular way. It’s a mathematical property rather than inherent in the way the physical world is working. The fact that it’s random leads to it balancing out.”

FALSE

RB: “That’s complete nonsense.”