Wired has an awesome article that explains how Mohan Srivastava cracked the math behind Canada’s scratch cards and found a way to earn about $600 a day. The story is a couple of years old, but it’s a great read and it shows that no system is ever 100% full proof.
Here’s the short and dirty of it: a geological statistician found a couple of old scratch cards in his office. He scratched them off then, being a mathematically oriented type of guy, thought about how difficult it must be to make these tickets appear random while also strictly controlling how many winning tickets are produced.
In this case, the suspect lottery tickets were tic-tac-toe style scratch cards. On the right side of the tickets, there were exposed numbers and on the left side, there were hidden numbers. You scratch the hidden numbers and hope they match up with the exposed numbers.
Mohan thought about how difficult it must be to generate so many random numbers on these tickets while also limiting the number of winners. He thought about it, ran through the numbers in his head, studied a few tickets and eventually figured it out: the exposed numbers on the scratch tickets revealed clues about what was hidden beneath the scratch-able portion.
He soon found that some numbers appeared multiple times on the front of the card, while other numbers only appeared once. He determined that if three of those “one time only” numbers were visible in a single row on the tic-tac-toe game, that card was probably a winner.
Mohan purchased a few more tickets and put his theory to the test. He was correct. He had cracked the Canadian scratch card lottery. At first, he thought this was the key to getting rich quickly. However, he soon realized that between driving around, buying the right tickets and winning lots of slow prizes would earn him only $600 a day. His job paid more than that and it was more interesting.
Anyways, it’s an interesting story. You’ll find many more details at the original article here. It’s a good read.
This is a good lesson for gamblers because it shows the importance of known information. The more information you have at your disposal, the easier it is to increase your edge. In rare cases, casinos or lottery organizers accidentally reveal too much information and make it possible for you to legally “crack the safe.”
For another example, take a look at this old post about cracking the lottery. Information is a powerful thing. Information is why skilled card counters are able to beat blackjack. They know how many cards are in a single deck, they understand the odds of drawing those cards and can adjust their strategy accordingly.
It’s not easy to crack gambling games using math. The guy who cracked the lottery tickets in this story has a strong math background and an extensive familiarity with statistics and randomness. If it was easy to crack these games, everyone would be doing it.
What I like most about this story is that it proves that sometimes “unbeatable” casino games are actually beatable. The problem is that most people who think they can beat casino games get it completely wrong.
They think they can crack these games within the rules by altering the bets, using progressive betting systems, relying on old superstitions or by tracking past results of the roulette ball in order to see when something is “due” to happen.
The key to cracking these games is to look for hard numbers that can give you a clue as to how the system works at its most basic level. You have to break out of the box that casino games put you in with their rules. If you play within the rules and try to beat the game through betting strategies, you will fail. You are staying within the established boundaries and in doing so, you have no effect on the underlying odds.
Me, I don’t even try. I enjoy the math behind casino games, but I am not a math whiz by any stretch. However, I do know the difference between superstitious folly and mathematical analysis.