Early South African LOTTO jackpots simply required that players select 6 numbers from 1 to 49, to win the jackpot. In July 2017 Ithuba Holdings substantially increased these odds by adding 3 more numbers to the playboard and changing the games types.
Breakdown of individual lottery games by odds.
- Lotto ➔ (1 in 20,358,520)
- Lotto Plus and Lotto Plus 2 ➔ (1 in 20,358,520)
- PowerBall and PowerBall Plus ➔ (1 in 42,375,200)
- Daily Lotto ➔ (1 in 376,992)
- SportStake ➔ (1 in 531,441)
- EAZiWIN ➔ (1 in 4)
While these odds are staggering in their own right; in comparison to Europe where the odds are 1 in 139,838,160 on EuroMillions Lottery or the USA PowerBall Lottery where the chance of winning is 1 in 292,201,338 or the USA Mega Millions where the odds at 1 in 302,575,350, the South African lotto odds don’t actually seem too bad.
Odds growth history in SA lotto
The odds of selecting 6 numbers in a 49-number game (pre-July2017) were 1 in 13,983,816. With the changes selecting 6 numbers in the 52-number draw game meant that players now have a 1 in 20,358,520 chance of hitting standard Lotto and Lotto Plus jackpots.
Increased odds mean that there are more rollovers with fewer wins, which means the lottery makes more money from ticket sales as jackpots balloon and attract more players. Lottery odds are mostly influenced by the quantity of “balls” or “numbers” on the playing card and the format in which players are able to choose them.
Powerball added a twist to the format by combining 2 games on a single play board and into the number selection process. The new process picks 5 numbers of 52 and then a “bonus” or “power ball” selection in a separate combination from 1 to 20. This seems to many players much the same as a straight pick 6 numbers game, but the odds against players more than double again with the South African Powerball add-on-game.
Adding another number to this playing board would make the odds nearly unattainable and with unattainable odds, players that consistently lose and tend to stop playing. It’s in this careful balance of stats, mystery and the dream of winning the lotto that weighs against the millions of rand in monthly lotto losses that are actually sustained by lotto players.
The odds in human factors and lotto ticket claims
There are many unpublished and less spoken about factors that further widen the odds for lotto players. Keep in mind the calculations only account for the possible numeric sequences and do NOT include the human element where lost tickets, unclaimed prizes, cumbersome checking and claims processes, duplicate number selections and many other human errors contribute to missed prize claims and greater cash reserves.
The weekly draws tend to wash over our thought radar but how many times have lotteries published the fact that there has been a jackpot winner, but yet that nobody has come forth to claim the prize? what are the odds? well actually pretty high in lotteries favour.
We have to recognise that millions of people simply don’t claim back their small win prizes and that all these wins expire over time and thus onus of claiming a lottery win falls squarely on the player who can and does routinely make mistakes in ticket claims.
People wager largely around birthdays, special dates when selecting tickets in a manual selection. This means that more players select numbers between 1 and 31 (representing days of months) and in so doing there are more chances of duplications in those number ranges which divides the winning pool (assuming the players collect their winnings).
Statistics relating to these factors are rarely (if ever) released even in the limelight of South Africa’s most contentious lotto draws there are many covert operating models and statistics that make up lucrative lotto operations, but that are kept far away from general public scrutiny.
Keep selling the dream
Lottery wins envoke something primal in our psyche, a universal fantasy to escape the mundanity of our lives and do good in the world and on our own terms. At the end of the day, we are all just walking, talking primates and part of our innate need in self-actualisation (where lotteries appeal most) is to our aspiration to do grander things in our lifetime. The odds of being caught up in the fantasy of winning the lottery?
Compulsive lottery betting however is not socially considered as “gambling” as much as it is accepted as the “cultural norm”.
In modern society, the perceived benchmark of success frequently hinges on materialistic or monetary desires such as having millions of rand at your immediate disposal. Ultimate financial freedom propels at least 74% of 2500 South African lotto players surveyed as to their #1 motivation for playing the lottery.
The bottom line is that the majority of people that play the lotto, do so to escape their own financial situations and be the source of financial freedom that provides for them and their families over their lifetimes. This indeed is a grand and noble aspiration and possibly what makes playing the lottery a socially accepted norm.
The hook, line and sinker?
These archetypal themes are so deeply embedded into our psychology that we hardly notice the personal resonances that we have to the media and news headlines that surround jackpots, lotto winners and their stories.
Retired bus drivers, single unemployed moms, destitute and homeless etc. Relatable human beings in their own life struggle that are in many cases deserved of lotto winnings, good people doing good charitable things, it’s just a narrative that is lapped up in media and spoon-fed to the public because it’s what we want to hear.
Conversely, the “lotto losers” that bottom out their winnings living large until it all runs out and in so many cases landing up in worse situations than they were before they hit the jackpot. These extreme stories are so often the case that it has become a cleché that does not bode well for the reputations of lotteries.
Either we resonate or reject the likeness of these tales but each lotto player has a pre-formulated plan as to what THEY PERSONALLY would do if by 1 in 42 million chance that lady luck smiled in their direction.
Psychologically it becomes an embedded personal belief combined with social proof of lottery winners, family and friends and the cognitive dissonance of lottery odds where the ultimate fantasy of wealth produces powerful motivations for players to keep “playing” or “losing” vast sums of collective cash.
We accept the fact that gambling kiosks can be found at any petrol station, retailer as the ubiquitous advertising embeds the cultural norm. Human beings tend to mirror the behaviours of their parents and social surrounds, so we are successfully raising the next generation to accept gambling against nearly impossible odds as being normal.
THIS IS YOUR CHANCE TO LOSE
Global lottery marketing focuses on “your chance to win” yes it’s 1 in 42 million chance to win but termed slightly differently the impact on the psyche does not have the same kind of resonance. There are actually 42 million chances you are going to lose your money and 1 very good chance that you will have to split the jackpot with a bunch of other happy birthday players.
Lotto losers never make a good story and ingeniously lotteries have found many tactics for mitigating the risks of millions of micro loser stories percolating in the headlines, or even winners casting doubt on the lotto winning fantasies of players.
Delaying jackpot payouts and providing “trauma counselling and support” seems to be a kind gesture of goodwill. The reality is a tactic for keeping the lottery winners on the straight and narrow. These extreme jackpot circumstances have produced so many extremely sad and nasty stories from lotto winners that lotteries nowadays actively need to circumvent these “lotto winner clechés” from making headlines for all the wrong reasons.
The fact is that most lottery winners typically come from low-income backgrounds and have no frames of reference in terms of the vast fortunes contained in lottery jackpots (truthfully not many of us do) but lotto winners themselves become a risk in exposing an insidious business practice of National Lotteries that effectively prey on the poor.
It’s estimated in South Africa 73% of lotto players earn less than R5,000 a month – and of that category, 33% earn less than R1,000 per month and of that segment, a large portion of South Africans are playing lotto with social grants provided by the taxpayer.
Odds of the media
It’s a successful marketing formula that is ingrained into the fabric of the gambling industry as much as it is ingrained into our society and culture at large. Unfortunately, national lotteries appeal mostly to the lower-income earning, underprivileged and less fortunate populations that are mostly trapped in their life circumstances and are in most need to escape.
It stands to reason that lotteries have duly earned the reputation for being a “tax on the poor” living hand to mouth each day places a far greater percentage of income is being allocated to support lottery dreams than is the case with higher income online lottery players.
The stark irony is that the original intent of lottery proceeds was to help the most underprivileged and poor communities and it is these communities that are contributing the largest portions toward ticket sales each month.
A 2006 survey indicated that 82% of South African’s play the lottery once a week.
South Africa 2020 population was estimated at 59,308,690 people 37% of that population are considered “youth” and not permitted to play the lotto, thus leaving an adult population circa 373,644,75. With an estimated 82% of South Africans playing the lottery once a week, that would mean there is an estimated 325,070,93 lotto players spending an estimated average of R100 per month that calculates to R325,070,930,0 pool revenue per month.
In words: three billion two hundred fifty million seven hundred nine thousand three hundred rands per month.
After paying out the jackpot and assuming that a large percentage of the balance is re-distributed to lower-tier prize payouts, there is still a lot of cash left over yet the widely reported lack of transparency from Ithuba as to where the balance of lottery proceeds go thereafter.
Understanding that ALL draw amounts and jackpot payouts are “determined by ITHUBA” and payout are made at their “sole and absolute discretion”. The National Lotteries Commission (NLC) used to publish the names of grant recipients annually. Until 2018, when such publishing ceased abruptly to “protect its beneficiaries”.