Nila Sweeney

There are many roads to accumulating wealth, but an overwhelming number of us are hoping to get there on the superhighway.


About $19bn was spent by consumers on various gambling products in 2008-09 – an increase from almost $17bn over the previous decade.


But just how lucky do you have to be to win a life of champagne wishes and caviar dreams?


The answer is – very.


There are many ways to lose… oops I mean, win money. Some of the most popular are pokies, lotto, scratchies, wagering and games of skill.


Electronic gaming machines:


Australia has 20% of the world’s poker machines (and represents 0.3% of the world’s population). As one of the most readily available modes of gambling, it is also one of the most popular. Australians spent around $10.5 bn on the pokies in clubs and hotels and about $1.4bn in casinos in 2008/09.
The highest jackpot available in Australia is $10,000. And the lowest payout on poker machines by law is 87% – so for every $100 punters spend, they will lose about $13 on average. Pubs cannot change the payout percentage each day as the machine is fixed at a certain level when it is manufactured.


You can’t increase your odds of winning on a pokie by playing one machine all night. A machine that has just hit the jackpot is just as likely to pay out again, as one that hasn’t paid out in awhile. As well, betting more per spin will not increase your odds.


But according to Onlinepokies.com there are ways to boost your chances. Apparently “it does appear that when a machine is first installed that the game will have a better pay back for the first day of use. While the reason for this is not known it does seem to be fact”.


Onlinepokies.com also states that in general your best bet is to play at a casino because the prizes are bigger and casinos have player VIP programs where you can get free rooms, foods and other extras.
If you do manage to get a win on an electronic gaming machine, the best thing to do is walk away – over time all players lose.


Average chance of winning the jackpot playing 1 line is 1 in 50,000,000


Average chance of winning the jackpot playing 20 lines is 1 in 2,500,000


Getting 5 Black Rhinos on Black Rhinos Machine (Top Prize, $1 bet per line) is 1 in 9,765,625 with a typical prize of $5,000


Lotteries:


The term “lottery” includes lottos, pools and instant lotteries also known as scratchies. Everyone knows that this is where the real money is. The highest lottery prize in Australia was $106m split by two winners in the Oz Lotto draw on 30 June 2009.


But with high reward, comes low probability. Odds of winning NSW Lotto and OzLotto are about one in eight million, and the odds of winning Powerball are even slimmer – about one in 55 million.


There are lots of ways to pick numbers –using the birthdays of family members, lucky years in your life, or following the recommendations on the back of a fortune cookie message. But statistics show that selecting your own numbers (as opposed to letting a computer pick the numbers) increases the odds of winning – if only slightly. Some people look for patterns and it appears that more than half the time in lotto, consecutive numbers come up.


In Lotto, the most common numbers are 2, 24, 26, 31, 35, and 45.


The least common numbers in Lotto are 8, 9, 15, 33, 36 and 40.


Picking the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 to win has exactly the same odds as any other number.


The good news is that in Australia, lottery winnings are not subject to personal income tax.


Scratchies:


If you prefer instant gratification then scratchies are the best bet. The odds of winning are one in four, but the majority of prizes are under $10.


According to NSW Lotteries, tickets for a particular game are printed in “pools” with an identical prize structure for each pool. The majority of games have multiple pools ranging from one to four. The pools are broken into “books” of tickets that are randomly distributed to the NSW Lotteries retail network of around 1,600 agents. Games are constantly re-stocked with new books from different pools. So ultimately this means that even if a top prize has already been won, there could still be another top prize available.


Win for Life tickets ($5), which offer a top prize of $75,000 per year for 10 years, are printed in books of 50 with 1,000,000 tickets per pool.


Odds on winning the top prize are 1 in 1,000,000.


Wagering:


Wagering refers to racing and sports betting. It’s no surprise that this is one of the most popular forms of gambling in a country that annually highlights the Melbourne Cup as “the race that stops the nation”.


Thoroughbred horse racing is the third most popular spectator sport in Australia, just behind football and rugby.


Racing punters claim that this form of gambling is not about luck – “serious” punters study form, lineage, jockeys, trainers, owners – even the weather. But the most thorough examination of a race or sporting event cannot account for all factors involved. Great jockeys have off days, fast thoroughbreds get knocked off stride by competitors, and equipment fails.


Greyhound racing is similar in that respect. You can study a dog’s history, research the trainer and compare its size to the others as it walks onto the track, but sometimes the best greyhound on paper just doesn’t perform.


Making “exotic” bets usually increases your winnings, but the odds are lower.


Sports betting is also based on a completely random event, which punters have no ability to control of odds of winning.


Odds of horse number 1 winning race ($1 bet) is 21 in 100 – typical prize $4


Odds of horse number 12 winning race ($1 bet) is 2 in 100 – typical prize $35


Games of skill:


In games of skill, such as Black Jack, the house margin – which is the percentage of money bet that is kept by the casino or house – always favours the casino. But skilled players can reduce the margin slightly.


The house margin for Black Jack is generally less than 1% for skilled players
In Caribbean Stud Poker, the house margin is around 5.5%
In Baccarat, the house margin is 1.2%
In Pai Gow, the house margin is 1.5%


Other casino games, such as Roulette, Big Wheel and Sic Bo are purely games of chance. The odds of winning straight up on a single number in Roulette is 1 in 37. The odds on winning black/red, high/low or odd/even in Roulette are 18 in 37.


Odds of non-gambling related activities:


Being killed by lightning – 1 in 1,603,250 people
Giving birth to twins – 1 in 44 women
Chances of being stung or bitten by something in the last four weeks – 1 in 55 people