POSTSCRIPT / January 17, 2006 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Bogus bettors inserted into Lotto winners list?

LOTTO JACKPOT: I do not mean to promote gambling, but I cannot resist the urge to tell readers that for just P10, they can bet and win some P120 million in the SuperLotto 6/49 draw on Thursday of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office.

Those millions may not be enough to buy a “respectable” mansion in the Ayala-Alabang Village in Muntinlupa, but they can buy oodles of instant noodles, now the survival meal of many Filipinos reeling from the hard times.

The 6/49 draw (of a random combination of six numbers from the numbers 1 through 49) last Sunday fetched a jackpot of P109,321,650 for the 10-peso ticket bearing the combination 1-5-9-36-42-48.

Nobody got that winning combination, so the jackpot by the close of frenzied betting at 8 p.m. on Thursday (Jan. 19) is expected to shoot past the P120-million mark.

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DISKARTE: You do not have to wrack your brain or burn candles divining the six-number winning combination. The fact is that any number is just as good as any other number.

But you do not tell that to a Filipino bristling with gambling instincts. Each of us has his own way of “diskarte” or unique way of choosing numbers to form a lucky combination.

One favorite formula is to form a combination from the birthdays of loved ones, addresses and telephone numbers, or the license plate numbers of vehicles that catch our attention.

Numbers are also inspired by dreams, the shape of things around us such as hair strands on the dresser, the branch of the guava tree outside our window. They could be taken from the number of the page opened when we cut the phone book.

Many of us harbor suspicion that the Lotto, as most things in this country, is being rigged. Still, when the jackpot is big enough — like this time — to share even with mysterious winners, we are inclined to grant good faith all around.

So, I would not be surprised if we ended up, again, with several winners this time.

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SLIM CHANCE: Seriously now, what are the odds — assuming the game is fair and square?

Dusting off my college math, particularly on permutation and combination, my calculation is that from a field of 49 numbers playing in the SuperLotto 6/49, there are 13,983,816 possible six-number random combinations.

That means that your P10 bet representing a six-number combination is playing against 13,983,815 other possible combinations! Chance of winning is only 1 in 13,983,816. With the odds that lopsided, it really takes luck, plus more, to win.

Note that you are not playing against other bettors, but with them. Whether there are only 10 bettors or more than 10 million of them, the odds are the same — which is your one ticket ranged against almost 14 million other possible tickets.

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DASAL O SUGAL: How do you break the odds? Most Filipinos would pray. We resort to either dasal or sugal (prayer or gambling) in times of economic crisis or heightened expectations.

But then, with millions of gamblers simultaneously praying to God to please make them win, the Lord might develop migraine and hurl thunderbolts instead of handing the jackpot to us!

After (also before) the mandatory prayer, we do other things. A few serious players collect the winning Lotto combinations from way back and, by computer-aided analysis and discernment, try to guess the numbers likely to come out this time around.

I used to do that computerized analysis myself and was in fact running a Lotto Tips column in a tabloid under a pseudonym.

But please do not ask me if I have won a jackpot even just once. What I will say is that many readers had gone out of their way to call and thank me for their big winnings — without their knowing who I was.

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BOGUS WINNERS: Also please do not ask me if Lotto is an honest game.

That would be like asking me to destroy a child’s belief in Santa Claus. But I must say that I have reservations about the honesty of the game introduced here by Malaysian operators toting (no relation to Bunye) newfangled gadgets.

I still have to be convinced that some people enjoying access to the computer system governing the betting and the draw do not insert winners (themselves?) when the jackpot grows big enough to share among several players.

Like this time, with the jackpot having shot beyond the P100-million mark, somebody with access could just add one or two extra winners without triggering complaints from the legitimate lucky players.

As I have said, I will not be surprised if there will be more than one winner again this time.

There was one time when our credulity was pushed to the limit. With the jackpot way past the P100-million mark, somebody democratized the game by assigning winners each for Luzon, the Visayas and Mindanao! That was just too much of a geographical coincidence. Masyadong halata!

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GRAVEYARD TRICK: It is time I raised again the same question posed in a POSTSCRIPT in October 2002 when the SuperLotto jackpot ballooned to an unprecedented P185 million.

The question discussed the possibility of fictitious winners being inserted during the night between the televised draw when the winning combination is drawn and the morning after when the winning bettors are announced.

The Lotto computer system is open the whole night to an expert with access. All he needs is less than 10 minutes, after the televised draw, to insert an extra winner.

The question was first posed in 2002 by POSTSCRIPT reader Vicente F. Gambito of Cebu. He said in an email:

“Lotto managers put a lot of hullabaloo in weighing the balls, in showing that they are not capable of rigging the whole thing, et cetera. What amuses me though is that when the numbers are drawn, they are unable to say promptly whether somebody bought the winning number or not. The public will know the answer to that only at some later time, usually the next day.

“This time lag allows a program specialist back at their operations center to issue a command to print out a winning ticket or tickets ostensibly sold by some unwary or conniving agent. Nobody ever checks this, right?

“To discount this possibility and probably for the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office to stop assuming that they have an unthinking public to continue fooling, the PCSO must bring to the TV studio a read-only CD (compact disk) containing all the numbers sold for the draw. After the number is drawn, and still on the show, the CD is placed immediately into a computer drive for one of the special judges/guests to verify whether or not the winning combination was sold. Copies of the CD can also be given to the rest of the judges or to a respected media representative.

“That way, the possibility of a last-minute insertion of a winning ticket is eliminated and the transparency which the PCSO is trying to project is complete.

“The CD must contain only in ASCI format the combinations sold. This is to make sure there is no embedded program to manipulate the search for the winning bet.”

We publicized that simple and doable suggestion of Gambito way back in 2002, or more than three years ago. What did the PCSO do to plug that loophole in the system and dispel suspicion? Nothing!

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GMA TOP WINNER: While we are at it, I reiterate a relevant suggestion for the PCSO to use better technology and better paper to print tickets at point of sale so as not to rob winners of their legitimate prizes.

Lotto prizes may be claimed within one year, but the paper used for the ticket printout fades after only a few weeks. Once the print on the ticket becomes unreadable, the bearer may no longer claim his prize.

In contrast, I still have lottery tickets bought in New York more than four years ago and the print is still crisp, clear and readable.

The local Lotto ticket fades even faster when exposed to sunlight or heat, depriving the ticket-holder of his winnings.

After one year, the prize is declared unclaimed and added to a Social Fund of President Gloria Arroyo. It is spent much like her intelligence fund that is exempt from the usual auditing rules.

With countless unclaimed big prizes going her way, the President ends up being the biggest Lotto winner — without her having to place a single bet!

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of January 17, 2006)

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