Professor dashes dreams with anti-lottery course

Lisa Marr

Ted Brellisford, The Spectator / McMaster University professor Fred Hoppe says playing lotteries is a huge waste of money.
Call Fred Hoppe a dream-buster. The McMaster University mathematics and statistics professor has used his cold, hard empirical studies to prove that yes indeedy, you are more likely to be struck by lightning than to strike it rich. Hoppe says, "W ould you pay $1 to bet on 24 heads in a row? The chances of that happening, as anyone who flips coins knows, is virtually impossible."

According to Hoppe, someone spending $25 a week for 20 years can expect to lose $13,000, about half the $26,000 it would have cost to play.

The odds aren't even that great for lower prizes. Based on a typical jackpot of $2.2 million, in those 20 years a player can expect to win a $10 fifth prize 459 times and a $73.50 fourth prize 25 times.

You'd have to be Rip Van Winkle to expect to win second or third prizes. Hoppe says it would take about 2,000 years to capture second prize of $131,934 and 40 years to win the third prize of $2,300.

Cheryl D'Alessandro says she knows her chances of winning are slim.

She even has a friend who is a statistician who has told her lottery tickets are a waste of money.

But that hasn't stopped her and her husband from depositing $14 a week at the local lottery kiosk.

"I look at it as a form of entertainment. Some of it goes to good causes so it's not a total waste."

Diane Delville, co-owner of Anna's Lottery Stop in Jackson Square, says some of her customers tell her about the plans they have for their possible winnings.

"They keep hoping they can get a quick way out of debt. People are so sad. They all have dreams -- paying off the mortgage, buying a new car, helping family -- and that's nice to see."

Still, players would be a lot further ahead if they invested those loonies.

Certified financial planner Robert Beres points out that if you took just $15 a week and invested it in a mutual fund that earned a 12 per cent average annual return, you'd have $61,735 after 20 years.

"Your most valuable asset is your ability to earn an income and the second is time. You should learn to manage that income."

Hoppe, who teaches the largest class at McMaster (900 students), says the lottery scenario is a great teaching tool. And if his students buy tickets before taking his course, it's not likely they'll continue once they're done.

Still, he admits even informed players won't likely stop playing lotteries.

"We're not rational in many ways, that's what makes us human."

Not even his family heeds his advice.

"My mother-in-law buys lottery tickets."

Internet users can get more information at his Lotto web page.