Executive Summary: Dr. Larry Lesser is an award-winning UTEP Distinguished Teaching Professor in the math department at The University of Texas at El Paso, where he’s been since 2004. Since 1993, Professor Lesser has helped the public understand lotteries by offering classes, talks, articles, and even award-winning edutainment (song, video, limerick)! His lottery outreach work has yielded coverage by USA Today, Real Simple, Bottom Line Retirement, CNN and dozens of newspapers or TV/radio stations.
As a PhD student at UT-Austin when Lotto Texas launched, Lesser saw lots of lottery misconceptions and false hopes around town and felt called to create and teach (the first time was on 9/18/1992) an adult ed course on its underlying psychology and probability. The course attracted massive media coverage — from a story spanning 37 column inches in the 8/28/1993 Austin American-Statesman all the way to a featured segment on CNN throughout that weekend.
Huge jackpots have yielded further stories on radio (e.g., an hour’s worth of interviews spanning 2018, 2020, 2021, and 2022 on iHEART station KOA, Colorado’s biggest talk radio station), Houston’s KTRH-AM, Atlanta’s WGST-AM, Houston’s KFNC-FM, Austin’s KUT-FM, San Antonio’s WOAI-AM), TV (e.g., Austin’s ABC-affiliate KVUE-TV, El Paso’s KFOX-TV and KVIA-TV) and national magazines (e.g., June 2005 Real Simple, Dec. 2005 Bottom Line Retirement, and 7/7/23 USA Today). Lesser also taught for UTEP’s continuing education in 2006 and Centennial Open House in 2014.
In interviews such as the 3/30/2012 El Paso Times, Lesser offers ways to help the public visualize the jackpot odds and he updates these concrete analogies when lottery odds change (e.g., KUT-FM’s Trey Shaar on 12/17/2013). Lesser was subsequently in the El Paso Times and on CBS-affiliate KDBC-TV, ABC-affiliate KVIA-TV (watch clip), KFOX-TV, and NBC-affiliate KTSM-TV. (Other coverage listed here.)
Two takeaways : Contrary to scams’ claims, there are NO strategies to increase a ticket’s chance of winning a share of the jackpot. By choosing less-played numbers, though, you may share the jackpot with fewer people IF you win. This message is reinforced by his award-winning edutainment:
Lesser’s SONG “The Gambler” addresses lottery strategies and myths, and may be sung to the tune of the same-titled signature #1 hit for Kenny Rogers; this song was a winner in a song contest of the National Museum of Mathematics (which had Lesser perform) and was played multiple times (e.g., 2018, 2020, 2021, 2022) as bumper music accompanying interviews on The Ross Kaminsky Show. His related VIDEO won prizes in national contests: SIGMAA-QL’s 2011-12 “QL in the media” and the 2014 ASA’s Got Talent competition.
Lesser’s ARTICLES for educators:
* (March 2013). The odds of academic usage of statistics terms in everyday contexts such as lotteries [letter]. Journal of Statistics Education, 21(1), 1-5. https://amstat.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/10691898.2013.11889670
* (Sept. 2012). Lottery Lunacy. Mathematics Teacher, 106(2), 93-94. http://www.nctm.org/publications/article.aspx?id=33965 A syndicated comic strip accompanied by classroom-ready questions about “strategies” such as tracking, wheeling, and pooling.
* (Winter 2004). Take a Chance by Exploring the Statistics in Lotteries. Statistics Teacher Network, No. 65, 6-7. https://ww2.amstat.org/education/stn/pdfs/STN65.pdf. Gives intuition for the magnitude of a jackpot probability how a lottery can be used to explore major topics of introductory statistics.
* (Fall 2003). A Whole Lotto Education! Texas Mathematics Teacher, 50(2), 12-15. Describes classroom explorations of the interpretation and calculation of probabilities involved in Lotto Texas. TI-83/84 calculator commands are given for simulating drawings and calculating probabilities using binomial, geometric, Poisson, and other distributions.
* (Nov. 1997). Exploring Lotteries with Excel. Spreadsheet User, 4(2), 4-7. Spreadsheets explore the lottery, addressing common misconceptions about various lottery “strategies” and probabilities and providing real-world applications of topics such as discrete probability distributions, combinatorics, sampling, simulation and expected value. Also explored are: the probability that an integer appears in consecutive drawings, the probability that a single 6-ball drawing includes at least 2 consecutive integers, the probability that exactly one person wins the jackpot, and the probability a frequent player eventually wins the jackpot.
* Lesser has also published lottery-related letters in education periodicals (e.g., August 2011 Mathematics Teacher) and in mass media (e.g., Austin Chronicle (5/14/93), Houston Chronicle (6/12/04), El Paso Times (11/4/10), etc.).
some official lottery WEBSITES: Mega Millions(https://www.megamillions.com/), PowerBall (http://www.powerball.com/), Texas Lottery Commission (https://www.texaslottery.com), Lotto Texas (http://www.txlottery.org/)
2-minute movie “Probability”: https://www.CAUSEweb.org/resources/fun/db.php?id=226
Where Texas Lottery $ goes: http://www.txlottery.org/export/sites/lottery/Supporting_Education/
How to Win More: Strategies for Increasing a Lottery Win, probably the only book on lotteries I’ve found so far that I’d recommend: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1568810784/002-6149190-5012835?v=glance&n=283155
One way to make your own “quick-pick” of numbers: http://www.random.org/sform.html
some articles for math lovers: http://www.lottery.state.mn.us/hypergeo.html, https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/epdf/10.1080/10691898.1994.11910474, https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/epdf/10.1080/10691898.2005.11910555, https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/epdf/10.1080/10691898.1999.12131278
though the chance of winning is dauntingly miniscule, note that a lottery ticket (1) gives more hours of daydream fantasy per dollar spent than a movie ticket, and (2) is certainly not the only thing people buy that loses money on average (e.g., consider insurance)
How some people try to defend lotteries: http://www.naspl.org/
find any misconceptions here? http://www.smartluck.com/locations/tips/tx544.htm
Shirley Jackson’s famous 1948 short story “The Lottery”: http://www.americanliterature.com/Jackson/SS/TheLottery.html; here’s a video adaptation by Larry Yust broken into two 9-minute clips #1, then #2