Texas and other states show misleading odds on websites.
By Lionel Ramos
Math Professor Gerald Busald led two of his statistics classes to uncover misleading advertising in the popular Mega Million lottery game in Texas and other states.
What Busald and his students discovered, Busald said, was that the website for the game advertised misleading odds.
“My overall point is: lottery is government; you ought to have truth in government,” he said during an interview March 28.
He explained that the problem has more to do with the semantics of the website than it does math.
The Mega Millions site, www.megamillions.com, states “odds of winning any prize” are one in 24, but these odds include both the odds of winning a profit and winning break-even prizes yielding no net gain.
For example, buying a $2 ticket that “wins” $2 is a break even, not a win.
“Not losing is not the same as winning,” he said.
Busald and his students found the way the odds are described is misleading because the odds of actually winning a profit are one in 69.6 – significantly lower than one in 24.
He said the Powerball, a lottery with the odds of winning being one in 24.9, does not have the same problem because it does not award break-even prizes.
He further said lottery players comparing the odds of the Powerball and Mega Millions would be comparing two sets of odds that don’t define ‘‘winning’’ the same way.
“If you look, which is better? Overall odds of one in 24.9, or overall odds of one in 24? Well, it looks like one in 24 is better, but it’s not, because it’s not the same thing,” Busald said.
He said he is not sure if the Texas Lottery Commission is being vague in word choice on purpose, but by not adding something like “including break-even prizes” in the description of the odds, the commission is engaging in false advertising.
A letter, written and signed by students in both of Busald’s Math 1442, Elementary Statistical Methods, classes, including their
findings and a potential solution, was sent April 1 to Texas state officials Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Gov. Greg Abbot, and various Texas Lottery Commission officials such as Executive Director Gary Grief, Chairman J. Winston Krausse, Commissioner Carmen Arrieta-Candelaria and Commissioner Robert Rivera.
In the letter, the students request the commission change the incorrect methods they currently employ to state the odds for the Mega Millions game.
This is the fifth time Busald has found an issue with the lottery since his first inquiry into the Cash Five scratch-off game in April 1997.
That inquiry was prompted by his student Nicole Cunningham, who discovered the ads promised more money than was awarded.
That instance, according to past Ranger reporting, has been followed by three more cases in July and September 1997, and in October 2000 — for which Busald was invited to testify in front of a Senate committee and the Texas Lottery Commission with three of his students.
Alessandra Schweers, pre-nursing sophomore and one of Busald’s current statistics students, said the motive for the mathematical probe into the Texas lottery was a “sense of justice and
She said it’s important to ask why changes made to the lottery in response to Busald’s past findings seemingly have reverted to what they were before Busald brought the items to the attention of the commission — not including the most recent finding.
Busald and his students wrote in their letter there are nine states that word their odds
similarly to Texas: California, Connecticut, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Massachusetts, Nebraska and North Dakota.
They also found eight states that don’t include the “any prize” verbiage in the phrase “odds of winning any prize” or any phrase
similar to it.
Those states are Delaware, Georgia, Maryland, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio and Wyoming.
By excluding that verbiage, those states are more “egregious” than Texas and the rest because they don’t even allow for the interpretation that break-even prizes might be included in the odds, Busald said.
Busald and his students said they hope to prompt a wave of transparency and honesty in the lottery systems in Texas and around the nation.