Framing matters: Pick a number

I wonder if fewer people would buy lottery tickets if instead of picking a set of numbers, you just had to pick a single number between 1 and 175 million.

Picking a set of numbers seems to disguise the true odds. This is very good for the lottery folks, because if people could more easily decipher their true odds of winning, they may not buy as many chances.

One might argue that the set of numbers easily allows for prizes other than the jackpot, like matching 3 or 4 numbers for a lower prize amount.

That’s easily corrected with range prizes. For example, in the Powerball, if you match 5 numbers, you win $1 million. In my ‘Pick Your Number’ lottery, you would have to guess the winning number to within 17.

That means if you picked 10,134,210 in my lottery, you would win the $1 million prize if the winning number falls anywhere between 10,134,193 to 10,134,227.

In the Powerball, you win $4 if you pick the Powerball. To win that in my lottery, you only have to get within about 1.5 million of the winning number. So, with your pick of 10,134,210, you could win $4 if the lottery draws anywhere from about 8.6 million and 11.6 million, again out of 175 million.

The genius of the picking the set of numbers format in most lotteries is how it frames the game to mask the odds. Even when you tell folks their chance of winning is 1 in 175 million, they don’t easily translate that back to picking a set of numbers.

Disclosure: I do occasionally buy lottery tickets.