The Truth is; The Game Was Rigged From The Very Start

“The good news is that in every deck of fifty-two cards there are 2 598 960 possible hands. The bad news is that you are only going to be dealt one of them” Anthony Holden (no date)

A famous saying goes, that one must “play the hand they are dealt” with in life. This is of course a reference to the more infamous than famous game of poker… or maybe it was blackjack? The game doesn’t matter because the truth is; the game of gambling was rigged from the start.

If we were to look at it more in depth, the phrase itself has more to do with the ordinary pack of cards used to play the games of chance. Eastaway (2010) believes that it is crazy that we, as a species, have conjured up vast amounts of trivial games that can be played across the globe with just simple mathematical rules and a deck of playing cards. Whole empires of gambling have been created around it in Las Vegas with casinos making huge amount of money off of revelers who come in hopes of making it big. Now, this is where the concept of gambling comes onto the table…

The concept of gambling was explored during an input in the Discovering Mathematics module where the principles of probability and chance were examined further. Gambling itself is all a game of luck, isn’t it really? Not necessarily as the odds are further explored in many of the popular games that are legal in casinos.

Games that are present in casinos across the globe are set up against you from the very beginning: “All casino games involve negative-expectation bets; in other words, in these games gamblers should expect to lose money” (Bellos, 2010, pg. 314). Psychologically, we can see that people that win when gambling get a massive sensation of glee when they unexpectedly win because it doesn’t happen very often. However, the people in charge of these games know all this and they purposefully set up the mathematical odds just right in order to keep people spending cash. It has been shown that if a casino was to make the odds harder for people to win, they lose money because people no longer want to keep losing at a game. Moreover, it has also been shown that if people win too much then they do not have an incentive to continue playing; the thrill is no longer there in the game (which loses the casino more money once again.) (Bellos, 2010). So, gambler tycoons need to make sure that revelers are feeling optimistic about playing a game, however, they also need to make sure they aren’t too optimistic or they will see no risk when parting with their pennies.

Returning to the Richard’s input, we first talked about the chances of someone winning the lottery. The game of the National Lottery in the UK revolves around choosing a set of numbers in hopes that they will appear in a draw (like any other lottery, really). You pick 6 numbers between 1 and 59 (formerly, it was 1 and 49, however, they have added more numbers making the odds of someone winning even harder) and in order to reap the luxuries of the millions you need to be able to get all 6 numbers. Now, mathematically, we can calculate the probability of someone being able to accomplish such a feat, by wagering up the variables.

Probability – a calculation of how plausible a particular event may occur (Holme, 2017)

“Probability is the study of chance.” (Bellos, 2010, pg. 303)

“Mathematically speaking, lotteries are by far the worst type of legal bet.” (Bello, 2010, pg. 329). One can calculate their chances of winning the lottery by using fractions and probability. A person would need to assess all the variables (6 numbers between an integer of 1 and 59) and then they would be able to see the staggering statistic: 1 in 45 million (this was originally 1 in 14 million before the introduction of the extra numbers).

The odds are really against a person participating in the national lottery when you look at the maths behind it

You are more likely to be crushed by a meteor than win the lottery (1 in 700000 chance of that happening) and being struck by lightning is almost 4 times more likely to happen to you than being able to get the jackpot (Khan, 2016)

A bigger theme that came to fruition during this input was the societal impact of teaching probability and chance in relation to gambling. Gambling can be extremely addictive and has ruined many peoples lives, due to the everlasting hope of being able to feel that elation at winning a jackpot. Could these aspects be taught in a primary school setting? Personally, I think it is a topic that should be explored because it is a prime example of mathematics being evident in the real world, and many people probably don’t realise the true mathematical thinking that goes into a game of poker or blackjack. Furthermore, bringing awareness to the odds being against the participants engaging in gambling from the get-go means that children can establish their own perceptions on gambling before being consumed by it naively once they are old enough to gamble. Also, in a less serious note, simple card games they play themselves could be a basis of exploring probability as the kids can work out within a pack of cards what are the chances of them getting a specific card.

A clip that we watched during the input, that I think would be beneficial for children to be made aware of, demonstrated that a lottery could be rigged using mathematics. A man named Stefan Mandel and his investors were responsible for being able to rig the Virginia State Lottery in the 90s:

Mathematics was the very thing that created this cycle of gambling but it can also be the thing that breaks down the unfair games in order to allow people to beat them. The basis behind the rigging of the Virginia state lottery was quite simple: the jackpot exceeded the investment needed to buy every combination of numbers, so if someone were to buy every ticket they would win. They used a buy-every-combination approach in order to remove the chances of anyone else being able to get the winning combination.

“Lottery officials speculate that the investors may have chosen Virginia for two reasons. The state had the biggest jackpot in the country that weekend. And the seven million entries required to cover all the combinations in a 44-number lottery is just half the number needed in a 49-number lottery, like Florida’s. California has 51 numbers and New York has 54. Improving the Odds” (New York Times, 1992).

Overall, probability was not a huge subject that I remember being explored a great deal back at school. All that I remember was that one mathematics teacher told us, in the run up to our exam, that there was only going to be one question in the actual examination that dealt with probability and that it wouldn’t be worth that many marks… A negative view on the whole concept prevented our class from being able to see the full potential that probability can provide for one’s societal understanding of things like the lottery, casinos and card games. Luckily, we are exploring these avenues within this module, for I would have never have fully understood the impact probability has on our lives.


Bello, Alex (2010) Alex’s Adventures in Numberland London: Bloomsbury

Eastaway, Rob. (2010) How Many Socks Make a Pair? Surprisingly Interesting Everyday Maths, London: JR Books

Holden, Anthony (no date) Quotation on playing cards [Quote] Available at: (Accessed 3rd of November 2017)

Holme, Richard (2017) Chance and Probability [PowerPoint Presentation] Available at: (Accessed 3rd of November 2017)

Khan, Shehab (2016) 11 things that are more likely than winning the lottery [Article] Available at: (Accessed 3rd of November 2017)

New York Times (1992) Group Invests 5 Million to hedge bets in lottery [Article] Available at: (Accessed 3rd of November 2017)

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