Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Unfortunate Odds

Posted By on Wed, May 5, 2010 at 10:17 AM

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This morning I heard a radio ad announcing that, in honor of Cinco de Mayo, Idaho Lottery players who purchase one $5 ticket or the $500,000 Spring Raffle will receive a free ticket—usually $2—for the Powerball/Powerplay $60 million draw tomorrow night.

Nice gift, right? Not really. The odds of winning most jackpots are one in millions. Not one in a million—one in millions. Plural.

This got me thinking about probability in general, and it didn't take me long to figure out that many things are more likely to happen to me than winning the lottery. For instance, I was on assignment at Bad Irish last night, a downtown Boise bar that I've never been to before, and I ran into someone who's on my Top 10 list of People I Don't Want To Run Into. I thought to myself, "Sheesh, what are the odds?" Thanks to census-taking (and a special thanks to the 2010 Censustakers who are spending the month of May going door-to-door to count people who failed to respond by mail) I know that the population of Boise was last tallied at just over 205,000. So my odds of encountering persona non grata are actually pretty high—much better than the odds of being struck by lightning in any given year, which is about one in 500,000. In fact, even if I can count my frenemies on the fingers of just one of my hands, I'm still more likely to be murdered (one in 18,000) than to encounter one of them unexpectedly in downtown Boise.

So, thank you very much, Idaho Lottery, but in light of all that cheerful information, I'll take my chances downtown again tonight for Cinco de Mayo, and I'll spend that $5 on BOGO margaritas at Cafe Ole. And if the odds are against me again, well, at least the second margarita is free.

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