Let's start with the good news: You are about to win $500. No, it's not 100 percent certain, but frankly, it looks pretty darn good. All you need to do is drive to New York, buy a lottery ticket and play the number 686. Hello 500 smackeroos! It's basically a lock and you want to know why? Well, Roy Siano is glad you asked.
"Double sixes are our best bet for the next issue," he says.
That would be the next issue of 3 + 4 Digit Lotto Stats, one of two biweekly publications owned, edited and published by Siano and his business partner for the past five years, Stephen Allensworth. Each issue of Lotto Stats and its sister magazine, Lotto News, purport to do what any mathematician will tell you cannot be done: teach you how to win the lottery.
For $2.95 per issue, you get 32 black-and-white pages stuffed with reams of data, dozens of charts and erudite-sounding advice from a handful of columnists, each offering strategies to gamble your way to Fat City courtesy of the New York lottery. Plenty of these columns come off as — what's the polite phrase here? — utterly amamie. Readers in a recent issue who saw a door in their REM sleep, for instance, were advised to play 271. Why? Unclear.
But that's the more fanciful stuff. Siano and Allensworth claim that solid logic undergirds the "hit frequency charts" and "pattern tables" crammed into their magazines. It boils down to this: If you flip a coin nine times and it keeps coming up heads, what should you bet will happen in the next flip?
"Tails, of course," says Siano, sitting in Allensworth's apartment in Port Chester, a suburb of New York near the Connecticut border.
"We use gambler's math," says Allensworth. "What it does is track events. Sometimes numbers are out for a long time," which is to say, they fail to show up in winning combinations. "Generally speaking, after they've been out for a while, they tend to make up lost ground."
Of course, the world is filled with geeks who find this "logic" laughable. Oh, they'll tell you that no matter how many tails in a row you get from a coin, the odds are still 50-50 with each new flip. The misimpression that a head is more likely after a string of tails, these so-called experts will tell you, even has a name. It's called the gambler's fallacy.
"It's also called the 'lottery fallacy,' " says Derrick Niederman, co-author of "What the Numbers Say: A Field Guide to Mastering Our Numerical World." "The law of averages isn't compelled to make adjustments on a near-term basis. What look like patterns are actually just the effect of randomness."
The lure of the gambler's fallacy, Niederman notes, has led more than a few people to ruin. In 2004, in lottery-crazed Italy, the number 53 failed to pop in a two-digit game for 152 consecutive draws. The whole country was slowly gripped by 53 fever. When the number was finally drawn in February 2005, one newspaper ran a headline that said "No. 53 Puts Italy Out of its Lottery Agony." Phooey, retorts Siano. "Could we have survived for all these years if the information we're providing these players isn't helping?"
He has a point, though exactly how many players and how much help is anyone's guess. Neither he nor Allensworth will discuss circulation numbers, aside from saying it's in the thousands, and that both publications are available at more than 7,000 places across the state.
Siano and Allensworth also sell results and reports about the lotteries in New Jersey and Florida online, and in the coming year they hope to market Web-based expertise about every lottery in the country. There's nothing quite like Lotto Hotline Inc., as the partners call their company. It is a mini-empire built entirely on an idea that is demonstrably false.
"I sell about five copies every week," says Izzy Espinoza, owner of Tiendita on Worth, a bodega in Manhattan's Tribeca. "The people who read it love it and they come and get it every week. They all have their favorite columnists."
Do these readers win a lot?
Espinoza ponders that one a moment. "Not really."
By their own accounting, Siano and Allensworth coughed up $54,000 worth of winning numbers last year in News and Stats. Then again, they grudgingly admit, buying tickets for all those combinations would have cost you close to $51,000. Still, if those figures are accurate, these guys beat the odds in 2005. Which raises an obvious question: If they have deciphered the lottery, why coach instead of play?
"As soon as I play for myself, it doesn't work," says Allensworth, 61. It's Allensworth's personal curse — he can pick numbers like a champ, he says, but as soon as he plunks down money, forget it. His biggest winner ever is $500. He rarely buys a ticket anymore.
Siano, who is 53 and the bubblier of the two, hasn't fared much better.
"I've got to be honest with you," he says. "I think I'm behind a little bit, overall."