Where science and tech meet creativity.

Today I was bad to myself and stopped by McDonald’s on the way into campus and got a soda and fries. (If I’m going to go to campus on a Saturday I feel ok being bad to myself). On the bag they handed me their was a code and a website and an invitation to participate in a sweepstakes. My first thought was, “Wow, they’re working hard not to give away money.” My second thought was, “I miss the monopoly game.”

Here is why. With the monopoly game I had a 1 in (something like) 6 chance of instantly winning something. This means that if I get a soda and fries 3 times, I’ll probably get 1 free something. This will actually work in getting me to go to McDonald’s over Wendy’s or the Quikie Mart when I want a soda and a munchie. For McDonald’s, this means they give away more free stuff, but it also means the get more business. This is a lose-win scenerio.

With the monopoly game, getting the big ticket items is harder – it requires folks to collect a series of pieces that often distributed in a way that makes it hard for one person to get all the pieces, and they have some pieces (that for obvious reasons) only exist in small numbers (small being defined as like 5, in some cases). In some cases, people will pieces that are rare, and lose them or throw them out – thus McD’s doesn’t have to give out the winnings. It is possible, some years they won’t have to give out any big ticket prizes (I don’t think this has happened).

By putting the prize info on a bag and requiring folks to log in, they are making it even more likely that they won’t have to give out all the prizes. My bag when straight to the trash. Some folks, like the homeless folks who really could use the free fries, probably aren’t going to type their numbers in at the local library’s internet cafe. I’m not sure McD’s will get the same surge in sales (not my field), but they will definitely get more info on who’s playing, and that has it’s own value.

Sweepstakes and lotteries are really a tax on the mathematically illiterate. Sure, I’ll randomly buy tickets when the amount one can potentially win gets sufficiently large,  but I plan to throw that money away.

Think of it this way. If galaxies typically produce 1 supernova a per hundred years, I need to watch at least 100 galaxies every day for 1 year to have a high probability of catching 1 SN on it’s first day.

Now, for your typical 6 numbers with 49 options lottery, there is 1 chance in 13,983,816 that any particular combination of will come out of the machine. This means that you have to play 13,983,816 times to have a high probability of winning. Or, if you are part of a ticket pool, you would have to buy 100 tickets a week for 2,689 years to have a high probability of winning. Now, you could spoil the statistics and be the fluck who tries once and wins, but… The odds aren’t in your favor 🙂

The odds are always in favor of the house, and whenever there is a sweepstakes that requires you to collect pieces, be present for the drawing (no replacement drawings made), or something other than an instant win, the person putting forward the money you might win is hoping you won’t follow through.

McDonalds: I like your fries, but your latest sweepstakes just gives me a statistical headache.