“After 433 gamblers won a lottery drawing in the Philippines last weekend, people across the country debated a thorny question,” reports the New York Times. “At what point does randomness begin to look a little too much like a racket?”
Some Filipinos accused the state-owned company behind the roughly $4 million prize drawing of fraud, a charge that was swiftly denied. Lawmakers said that they planned to investigate the winning draw as a way of securing the lottery’s integrity. How was it possible, skeptics asked, that 433 people had all picked the same winning combination of six numbers — 09-45-36-27-18-54? Or that all six figures turned out to be multiples of nine?
Others said that the outcome was a simple case of good luck. (The winning numbers could be in any order.) Statisticians noted that it was not mathematically impossible for 433 winners to strike it big….
A few [critics] noted that some officials from the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office, which sold nearly $443 million in tickets in the first half of this year, have been convicted of bribery and other charges over the past decade, including one case in which they pocketed prize money…. Lawmakers in both the House and Senate said this week that they planned to investigate the contentious draw. One of those legislators, Aquilino Pimentel III, the minority leader of the Senate, told The Times in a text message on Wednesday that while the result was “not impossible,” it seemed “highly improbable….”
Professor Chua Tin Chiu, a statistician at the National University of Singapore, said the criticism was an example of humans misunderstanding the nature of randomness. “Some time ago, there was news about a person that struck the jackpot more than once in his lifetime,” he said. “Would that be possible? Yes. Are the chances very low? Yes. Is it going to happen to someone? Yes.”