That’s magic! … not a lot

February 17, 2013

Numbers have always been associated with magic, from the Kabbalah to ‘unlucky’ numbers, such as 13 (down my street, the people next to house number 11 choose to live at 15A, much to the mailman’s bemusement).

The most recent version is exemplified in the online gaming shows, such as Jackpot247,  which tend to grace our airwaves in the unholy hours.

Watch the routlette shows (roulette having a negative chance of winning, so your optimal betting strategy here is to gather together all the money you ever, in your entire life, intend to gamble on routlette in a neat pile in front of you, and risk it all on one single, inglorious spin)

But look – what’s this, at the bottom of the screen? It’s the history of the previous winning numbers, an archaeology of the blessed.

The implication is clear: in this era of Dan Brown, where meaning is over-determined, there must be a pattern or code  by which we can make sense of, and hence master, the apparently random sequence of digits.

Make sense of that sequence and you can unlock untold riches by predicting where the roulette wheel, or dice, or lottery ball, will end up this time.

The lure of the sequence (and this lure lies precisely behind all gambling) is, of course, illusory; it is the pattern of leaf and moonlight that makes a face in the primordial forest, or conjures a monster from the grain of a wardrobe door.

The fact that number 20 – or odds, or reds – occurred once, twice or a million times before, has no bearing whatsoever on whether it will occur on the next spin.

An immediate consequence of this is that any betting ‘system’ has a 100% chance of success only if you have an infinite pot of money to gamble with –  a happy circumstance enjoyed by far too few punters.

This is a fact which appears unpalatable to the gullible and the sophisticated alike.

It is also, incidentally, why truly random patterns are so difficult to replicate – we like our randomness to have a certain regularity to it.

So what’s the lesson to be learnt from the TV screen’s scrolling history of previous winning numbers, or patterns, or codes?

Just that chance has no favourites, that die have no memory – and that you’ll never meet a casino owner who’s down on their luck.


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