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# Lucky lottery lady outed as Stanford University statistics PhD

Aug 8, 2011, 2:43 pm

Insider Buzz: Lucky lottery lady outed as Stanford University statistics PhDRating:

She was called the luckiest woman in the world.

But now that luck is being called into question by some who think that winning the lottery four times is more than just a coincidental spell of good fortune.

Joan R. Ginther, 63, from Texas, won multiple million dollar payouts each time.

First, she won \$5.4 million, then a decade later, she won \$2 million, then two years later \$3 million and finally, in the spring of 2008, she hit a \$10 million jackpot.

The odds of this has been calculated at one in eighteen septillion and luck like this could only come once every quadrillion years.

Harper's reporter Nathanial Rich recently wrote an article about Ginther, which questioned the validity of this 'luck' with which she attributes her multiple lottery wins to.

First, he points out, Ginther is a former math professor with a PhD from Stanford University specialising in statistics.

A professor at the Institute for the Study of Gambling & Commercial Gaming at the University of Nevada, Reno, told Rich, "When something this unlikely happens in a casino, you arrest 'em first and ask questions later."

Although Ginther now lives in Las Vegas, she won all four of her lotteries in Texas.

Three of her wins, all in two-year intervals, were by scratch-off tickets bought at the same mini mart in the town of Bishop.

Rich proceeds to detail the myriad ways in which Ginther could have gamed the system — including the fact that she may have figured out the algorithm that determines where a winner is placed in each run of scratch-off tickets.

He believes that after Ginther figured out the algorithm, it wouldn't be too difficult to then determine where the tickets would be shipped, as the shipping schedule is apparently fixed, and there were a few sources she could have found it out from.

According to Forbes, the residents of Bishop, Texas, seem to believe God was behind it all.

The Texas Lottery Commission told Rich that Ginther must have been 'born under a lucky star', and that they don't suspect foul play.

Thanks to Dave for the tip.

Daily Mail

74 comments. Last comment 9 years ago by martingorgeous.
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 Hermanus104Bearflag Republic, Los Angeles DivisionUnited StatesMember #83347December 5, 20091425 PostsOffline August 8, 2011, 3:09 pmThere is nothing that says that this cannot be the one year in a quadrillion where it happens.Today's winning 3-ball is going to be a number between 000 and 999.In a lot of states, lotteries benefit education. That makes the REAL winners the only people who can't play!
 jeffreyHamilton, OHUnited StatesMember #4162March 27, 2004277 PostsOffline August 8, 2011, 3:55 pmsounds like she jacked the system. glad i didn't play. supposed to be random but it isn't. if someone snitched then there is fraud involved.
 Stack47KentuckyUnited StatesMember #32651February 14, 20068965 PostsOffline August 8, 2011, 4:44 pm"Three of her wins, all in two-year intervals, were by scratch-off tickets bought at the same mini mart in the town of Bishop."Most store owners feel lucky if they sell a \$5000 winner, but THREE million dollar plus winners in two years does raise an eyebrow; especially when the three winners are the same person.
 tnhopeTennesseeUnited StatesMember #33214February 19, 200658 PostsOffline August 8, 2011, 4:50 pmLearn everything you can, anytime you can, from anyone you can... there may come a time when you will be grateful you did. - Sarah Caldwell  Where do numbers go to do their homework?The Times Table i luv cherry popsicles''It\$ what you learn after you know everything that count\$.''-John Wooden
 tnhopeTennesseeUnited StatesMember #33214February 19, 200658 PostsOffline August 8, 2011, 4:59 pmQuote: Originally posted by jeffrey on August 8, 2011sounds like she jacked the system. glad i didn't play. supposed to be random but it isn't. if someone snitched then there is fraud involved.mmmhumm ... random? it isn't..check out the cash 3  midday august 1st to august 7 220??? 220??? 220???  somebody getting the hook up huh doubles right...but in the same order Learn everything you can, anytime you can, from anyone you can... there may come a time when you will be grateful you did. - Sarah Caldwell  Where do numbers go to do their homework?The Times Table i luv cherry popsicles''It\$ what you learn after you know everything that count\$.''-John Wooden
 Boney526New JerseyUnited StatesMember #99028October 18, 20101439 PostsOffline August 8, 2011, 5:03 pmQuote: Originally posted by tnhope on August 8, 2011EDIT: No idea why I quoted that. I don't see how the odds could possibly be in the septillions, I'm assuming the calculated those odds by multiplying the odds of winning each of those prizes together, without accounting for the fact that she probably played a lot more than 4 tickets. And to reverse engineer the algorithm that "randomly" (as random as a computer can get) distributes the prizes would be problematic to say the least.  She'd have had to buy millions of tickets, and then hope for that tiny chance there's a distinct pattern to the distribution, or some way to determine how the algorithm placed them.  They'd also have to be in a row, or placed in order, or something like that.That's not to say that she couldn't have obtained information about where the scratch offs would be SOMEHOW, but I doubt the fact that she has a degree in Statistics helped her to do this.  I've taken 2 statistics courses and the only thing that could even be conisdered even remotely close to helping with Lottery is Probability, unless you just wanted to find, say, the average win, standard deviation of a Pick 3 3 way box over 20000 trials.  Or with scratch offs, or w.e. but it still wouldn't be useful.
 RJOh100mid-OhioUnited StatesMember #9March 24, 200120272 PostsOffline August 8, 2011, 5:10 pmWhat ever happened to those reporters who use to write "lotteries are voluntary taxes for the uneducated and stupid"?   Now we're finding out that not every lottery player is uneducated or stupid, but some have actually thought about what they are doing and have a strategy for winning.  Obviously those players calculate their chances of winning differently than that professor at the Institute of Gambling who think anyone who wins more than once should be arrested and questioned.  If they were interested in sharing their strategy, they would go on the Internet and sell it. Besides, the average player wouldn't spend the kind of money those players spend to win even if they do make a profit. * you don't need to buy every combination, just the winning ones *
 Boney526New JerseyUnited StatesMember #99028October 18, 20101439 PostsOffline August 8, 2011, 5:14 pmQuote: Originally posted by tnhope on August 8, 2011mmmhumm ... random? it isn't..check out the cash 3  midday august 1st to august 7 220??? 220??? 220???  somebody getting the hook up huh doubles right...but in the same order Can't vouch for Tennessee, but this type of stuff will happen from time to time.  Plus I've seen the balls flying around, I know it's random, but I still rarely play Pick 3 anymore (50% payouts made me wanna stop playing, the worse popular Casino Table game - roullette - pays back 94ish percent, so I'll stick w/ JP games, where I'm not thinking about the low payout lol) If Tennessee uses RNGs then I can say without a doubt it's not random.  B/C computers are essentially non-random (there's very few ways to get randomness from a PC, see random.org) but for all intensive purposes, RNGs are basically the same.  They are essentially random, even though they'd have to use an algorithm to pick the next number, which is a set of pre-defined steps, making it not ACTUALLY random, it just appears to be random for all technical purposes. Point is, unless there's a glitch, bad programming, or cheating going on, for all intensive purposes RNGs are fine.  It's just that those 3 instances can occur a lot easier in RNGs than with Ping Pong balls, which is why Lotteries that want to appear to have integrity should use them. I remember one month where NJ saw like 10 repeats straight, and that's with balls, which are 100 percent random.
 Jon DLos Angeles, CaliforniaUnited StatesMember #103809January 5, 20111530 PostsOffline August 8, 2011, 5:17 pmI definitely think it's possible for this to more than just pure luck.The whole idea of scratch-offs is to hide the winners in the manufacturing and distribution process. The problem is that they need to somewhat evenly distribute the top prizes otherwise they could lose money, every million tickets or so. It is not purely random and there is definitely some kind of algorithm. So if someone can determine which ranges of ticket books are more likely to contain the top prizes, they "buy heavy" on those ranges, and every once in a while, they will hit. Similar to blackjack, betting more when the deck is hot.Her first big win allowed her to retire with a lot of time and money on her hands, and then over a decade later came the 3 scratch top prize wins every 2 years. Allegedly using such a scheme to significanly improver her odds.With her resources, she could have been buying many books/rolls of tickets, and doing statistical analysis on the ticket and book numbers to try and figure out the algorithm of the winners insertions. And if she had the help of the store clerk, think of how much more data she could put into her database by going in the store at night and entering in all those piles of winning tickets, and maybe more if the clerk was able to document people jumping up and down with >\$1000 winners as well. But if there was collusion between her, the store and the ticket distribution to route certain ranges of books there, then that definitely crosses the line.Very interesting...
 Boney526New JerseyUnited StatesMember #99028October 18, 20101439 PostsOffline August 8, 2011, 5:21 pmObviously an algorithm is used, but without information of every scratch off printed, and even with it, you could end up with a multitude of algorithms that would achieve the same result. Unless I just don't understand what an algorithm is, but I was under the assumption that an algorithm is a set of steps.
 RJOh100mid-OhioUnited StatesMember #9March 24, 200120272 PostsOffline August 8, 2011, 5:27 pmIf the company producing the tickets has an algorithm for distributing the prizes on the tickets then it was known by several people.  However since she brought all her winning tickets at the same store in a little town of less than four thousand people, it wouldn't have helped her knowing it if the winning tickets weren't distributed in that town at that store. * you don't need to buy every combination, just the winning ones *
 Jon DLos Angeles, CaliforniaUnited StatesMember #103809January 5, 20111530 PostsOffline August 8, 2011, 5:29 pmQuote: Originally posted by Boney526 on August 8, 2011Obviously an algorithm is used, but without information of every scratch off printed, and even with it, you could end up with a multitude of algorithms that would achieve the same result. Unless I just don't understand what an algorithm is, but I was under the assumption that an algorithm is a set of steps.You don't need to figure out the algorithm itself, just the result.Scratch-offs are unlike all other lottery draw games. You are not dealing with a pseudo-random number generator, not dealing with probabilities on an undertermined timeline. You are dealing with a finite set.The lottery publishes the data. A fixed number of tickets total for the game, and sequential numbering of ticket books, a fixed number of prizes in each prize tier. So you just need a sampling, like in any statistical analysis, to reveal patterns. This can allow you to improve you chances of winning a top prize by not buying ranges of tickets that are not likely to contain top prizes.
 eddessaknightLAS VEGASUnited StatesMember #47728November 22, 20067166 PostsOffline August 8, 2011, 5:42 pmCongrats to the lucky + lady, we will probably learn how iy happend.NEVER SAY NEVEREddessaKnight
 Boney526New JerseyUnited StatesMember #99028October 18, 20101439 PostsOffline August 8, 2011, 6:51 pmQuote: Originally posted by Jon D on August 8, 2011You don't need to figure out the algorithm itself, just the result.Scratch-offs are unlike all other lottery draw games. You are not dealing with a pseudo-random number generator, not dealing with probabilities on an undertermined timeline. You are dealing with a finite set.The lottery publishes the data. A fixed number of tickets total for the game, and sequential numbering of ticket books, a fixed number of prizes in each prize tier. So you just need a sampling, like in any statistical analysis, to reveal patterns. This can allow you to improve you chances of winning a top prize by not buying ranges of tickets that are not likely to contain top prizes.I suppose if it's not random enough, then you could find patterns with smallrt samples of data, I was sort of assuming it is random, but that would probably change state by state, if any states are random. I always assumed they have a batch of say, 14 million computerized tickets, and a random number generator picks from them when are ordered by stores, and the digital tickets are printed out and sent off.  If they decide to add more, they can easily do so, without the need to print them out until they are ordered. But even then, the only times an advanatage is present is when top prizes are still remaining, while other tickets are sold, and you can be sure that they haven't added more tickets to the pool - without telling you how many were printed.  I suppose you could look up how many winners there were and compare it to the numbers of starting top tier prizes, with the current number to gain a small advantage.

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