By the end of today, Australians are set to gamble up to $500 million, but most are not aware of just how low their chances really are, says a leading probability expert.
Professor Peter Taylor is an applied mathematician at the University of Melbourne and says the average punter should be made aware of the reality of their choices, especially when it comes to OZ Lotto's $100 million jackpot today.
“You've got to choose seven numbers out of 45. There are, roughly speaking, 45 million ways of doing that; 45,360,620 I think is the exact number,” he said.
That's double Australia's population.
“And if you bought more than one ticket, multiply that by two – that's still not much out of 45 million,” he said.
Based on 18 games, the odds remain 2,521,090 to one.
Professor Taylor says most people are not aware, despite the obvious logic, that the system is designed to provide dividends to the operator.
“Every time you buy a lottery ticket you are losing. The lottery on average makes more money out of each ticket than you do, they pay less back than the full price,”
Dr Darren Christensen is among Australia's leading experts in behavioural decision making, especially in problem gambling.
“The reason people gamble is that they are thinking about what they might do with the money and are distracted by the possibility of winning,” he said.
“They don't make an accurate assessment of what the chances really are."
He has studied gambling behaviors around the world and says Australia's relationship with gambling is unique.
"It's usual to have a day where the prohibitions about gambling are lowered – 'the race that stops a nation' is quite unusual.
“For the most part – gambling is recreation that most people don't have a problem with. It's a small group that do, but they have a significant problem."
But even an applied mathematician like Professor Taylor is not immune to the fever that grips Australia on Melbourne Cup day.
“There are reasons to get involved: you feel part of something, you get a thrill, there's the hope that's engendered by the chance of winning and they are all positive things.
"But on average you are going to lose.
"You're not on a winner. It doesn't mean you shouldn't do it, but you should not do it if you are trying to make money.
“For me gambling is not a bad thing, but you should ever gamble anything you can afford to lose."
Will he, an applied mathematician, be placing a bet on the Cup today or buying an OZ Lotto ticket?
“Ah, no,” he said.