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Best of Mark Pilarski

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Deal Me In: Sister Cyrilla to the rescue

16 April 2010

Dear Mark: Crazy as this sounds, I have this certainty that some day some day I'm going to hit the Powerball lottery. It's often said that your odds of being struck by lightning are better than your odds of winning the lottery; well, I was hit by lightening, twice, once on July 3, 1985, and the second time on August 11, 2008, both while playing golf. You may think I'm trying to make money out of thin air here, but I really believe I will eventually do it. Eric M.

Well, Eric, you've got half the battle won, confidence. But the other half, your perception of the true odds of certain events, and the use of some words and terms in your question, could use some polish. Take for instance making money out of "thin air." Didn't your Mom tell you something couldn't come from nothing? But then, in 1640 the Flemish chemist Helmont grew a willow tree out of thin air, so we'll let that one slide.

But now let's tackle your getting zapped, twice, the true odds of that feat, and the delicate art of transferring that derived wisdom to the likelihood of your hitting the lottery.

Be it lightning strikes, or any gambling possibility you can think of, they all occur with what is called "independent probability." This means, Eric, that one event doesn't affect the odds of another, be it fire bolts from the sky, a hatful of sevens rolling consecutively, or repeating a five-spot in keno on the next draw.

According the National Weather Service publication Storm Data, your odds of being struck by lightning once in an 80-year lifetime are about one in 3,000. Twice, roughly one in 9,000,000.

It's simple grade school arithmetic that I learned from Sister Cyrilla on how to figure the odds of any occurrence happening twice. You calculate independent probability by simply multiplying the odds. If the odds of being struck once in your lifetime are one in 3,000, you multiply it by the same value, and the odds of being struck twice in a lifetime turn out to be one in 9,000,000.

Also, we should look at certain factors that affected your odds of getting hit twofold. Playing golf in the rain, were you?

Finally, reassigning your fortune/misfortune from a natural electric discharge in the atmosphere to the lottery is a bit wilder than ambitious; it is downright miscalculated, or to be technical about it, silly. If 9,000,000 to one are the chances of a double lightning hit, and the chances of hitting the Powerball are 195,249,054 to one, plan on the latter being 21.7 times tougher.

There is one certainty though, Eric. Lucky lightening will eventually strike someone in the "Qualified Group," i.e., those who actually buy lottery tickets.

Dear Mark: If you have to leave a blackjack table to use the restroom, is it safe to leave your chips there or would you advise taking them with you? Mel G.

They're safe on the table, Mel. Some players pocket them for security reasons, but in all my years of pitching cards or pit bulling, I don't remember any instances of a snatch and run or a shortage. There was one player I was dealing to who left to use the restroom, leaving eight grand on the layout, and he never came back. Before you ask, the casino did hold the $8,000 in the cashier's cage for a week in case Mr. Anonymous ever returned to retrieve his winnings. As you would expect, I lobbied long and hard that it was a tip for the dealers . . . unsuccessfully.

Gambling Wisdom of the Week: "Superstitions are the survivors in the battle waged by reason." -- Zolar, Zolar's Encyclopedia of Omens, Signs, & Superstitions
Recent Articles
Best of Mark Pilarski
Mark Pilarski

As a recognized authority on casino gambling, Mark Pilarski survived 18 years in the casino trenches, working for seven different casinos. Mark now writes a nationally syndicated gambling column, is a university lecturer, author, reviewer and contributing editor for numerous gaming periodicals, and is the creator of the best-selling, award-winning audiocassette series on casino gambling, Hooked on Winning.
Mark Pilarski
As a recognized authority on casino gambling, Mark Pilarski survived 18 years in the casino trenches, working for seven different casinos. Mark now writes a nationally syndicated gambling column, is a university lecturer, author, reviewer and contributing editor for numerous gaming periodicals, and is the creator of the best-selling, award-winning audiocassette series on casino gambling, Hooked on Winning.