Virginia couple wins lottery prizes 3 times in a month: A look at odds


A Virginia couple has won top prizes in the state’s lottery three times within a single month. Wow, what are the odds!

The answer is: rotten. The odds of winning are rotten.

But it’s people like Calvin and Zatera Spencer, of Portsmouth, Va., who keep us playing the lottery. We know we’ll never win. Then someone wins three times in a month.

“I’ve been here for 12 years,” Virginia Lottery spokesman John Hagerty told the Los Angeles Times, “and this is the first time I’ve seen someone win three major prizes within such a short period of time.”


We asked Hagerty exactly what the odds were of winning the lottery games the Spencers played. The couple on March 12 won $1 million on Powerball. The odds of winning, he said, were 1 in 5,153,633. The odds of getting struck by lightning? 1 in 3 million.

On March 26, the Spencers matched four numbers exactly in the Pick 4 game. Tickets with the winning combination, 6-6-6-6, earned $5,000. The Spencers had 10 tickets with that combination, for $50,000. The odds of matching those four numbers exactly, Hagerty said, were 1 in 10,000.

Then on March 27, in the $100 Million Cash Extravaganza, the couple won second prize -- a million bucks. (At this point, it may have been hard for fellow lottery players to be thrilled for them.) The odds of their winning were 1 in 836,000, Hagerty said.

The vast majority of us can count on never winning the lottery. But, as mathematician David J. Hand recently wrote in The Times, there are laws of improbability, which are “powerful enough in themselves to produce extraordinarily unlikely events.” Among them is the law of truly large numbers -- if you have enough opportunities then even the most improbable of events is likely to occur.

What it boils down to is, the Spencers got lucky. And they think their luck will hold. According to lottery officials, their words upon claiming their latest prize were: “We’re not finished yet.”

Hmmm, what are the odds?

Gamble responsibly? I try. Follow me at @AmyTheHub



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