An interesting discussion involving the Oklahoma Lottery’s website is taking place at the Wizard of Vegas forum. Michael Shackleford, known in the gambling world as the Wizard of Odds, presented his members with evidence that the Powerball simulator hosted by the Oklahoma Lottery’s website (Update: It has since been removed) does not properly represent the true odds of the real game.
A Powerball player chooses five numbers between 1-59. The player then picks a Powerball number between 1-35. The Powerball number may duplicate one of the five numbers as it is a separate ball. Each ticket costs $2 and there is an optional $1 Power Play wager that increases a non-jackpot win by as much as four times.
I decided to run my own test of the Oklahoma Lottery’s Powerball simulator. I chose five different sets of numbers per ticket and played them in 10 separate drawings. I paid $2 per number sequence for a total of $10 in play money per drawing, declining the Power Play option.
My numbers were:
- 1-2-3-4-5 – Powerball: 1
- 8-9-10-11-12 – Powerball: 2
- 15-16-17-18-19 – Powerball: 3
- 22-23-24-25-26 – Powerball: 4
- 29-30-31-32-33 – Powerball: 5
My results were as follows:
- 1st drawing 5/5 numbers – Powerball: No – $1 million
- 2nd drawing 3/5 numbers – Powerball: Yes – $100
- 3rd drawing 5/5 numbers – Powerball: Yes – Jackpot
- 4th drawing 5/5 numbers – Powerball: Yes – Jackpot
- 5th drawing 5/5 numbers – Powerball: Yes – Jackpot
- 6th drawing 4/5 numbers – Powerball: No – $100
- 7th drawing 3/5 numbers – Powerball: Yes – $100
- 8th drawing 5/5 numbers – Powerball: No – $1 million
- 9th drawing 5/5 numbers – Powerball: No – $1 million
- 10th drawing 4/5 numbers – Powerball: No – $100
I hit 5 out of 5 numbers on 6 of 10 attempts. Each of these 6 drawings with 5-spot winners saw the highest number drawn first, followed by the middle number, the first number, second, and fourth. For example, my 8-9-10-11-12 card hit all five numbers three times on ten tries. The numbers were drawn in the exact order of 12-10-8-9-11 each time this card hit all 5 numbers. The Powerball number required for the jackpot hit only once in the three drawings related to this sequence of numbers. The other two drawings absent the Powerball number awarded a $1 million prize.
I hit a 5-spot with the Powerball number for the jackpot with two other number combinations in different drawings. I also hit a 5-spot without the Powerball for a $1 million win in a separate game. All of these 5-spot draws followed the same pattern as the 8-9-10-11-12 winning draws, with the highest number picked first, followed by the middle number, the first, second and fourth numbers, displayed in that exact order.
I also played just one number sequence on a single $2 card to see if that type of draw was affected. I hit all five numbers and the Powerball for the jackpot on the first try. The odds of this happening exceeds 1 in 175 million.
I took a screenshot of each drawing. The images may be seen at the bottom of this article.
How Much Play Money Did I Win?
Using the currently advertised $290 million Powerball jackpot, I managed to turn a modest $102 into just over $1.19 billion in 11 drawings, hitting the jackpot on 4 of my 11 tries. Of course, this is all for play money. I did not actually win anything.
What Are the Odds?
The odds of hitting the Powerball jackpot three times in a row as I did on a 5-play ticket are about 1 in 42,875,000,000,000,000,000,000. The odds of all 10 of my 5-play tickets winning anything are 1 in 282,475,249. This is less likely than winning the Powerball jackpot on a single play ticket, which I also managed to do on my first attempt.
It is extremely unlikely that these results came from a realistic random number generator. I contacted the Oklahoma Lottery through their website to inquire about its Powerball simulator. USPoker has not yet received a reply. We will update this article with their response when it is received*.
* Update: The simulator was not linked within the Oklahoma Lottery website at the time this article was published but was still live and available in Google. It has now been completely removed after management was made aware of the situation.
I was unable to find another Powerball simulator on any other state lottery website. I did find other simulators hosted by third parties. The results on these websites unrelated to any state lottery appear to resemble the actual Powerball odds.
Unrealistic Online Play Money Versions Often Forbidden by Gaming Law
Online gaming commissions often ban the use of unrealistic play money versions of games over the Internet. It is generally frowned upon because this action may be used to entice players to make a deposit when a player may not otherwise be inclined to gamble. For example, page 54 of the New Jersey Internet Gaming Regulations states:
If an Internet gaming system offers free or demonstration games, the games shall only be accessible after log in and have the same payout percentages and odds as paying games.
Section 7.2 of the Gibraltar Technical and Operating Standards states this on page 38:
Play for free games for no prize are not gambling but should accurately reflect any
‘real-money’ version of the game, and should not be used to encourage those under
18 to use licensed gambling facilities
In particular, such games should not be designed to mislead the player about the
chances for success by, for example, using mappings that produce different
outcomes than the cash game. Licence holders should be able to demonstrate this
equivalence to the Gambling Commissioner upon request.
These are just two examples of online gaming regulators that forbid unrealistic play money versions. It is important to note that Oklahoma does not appear to have similar laws or regulations, nor is there any proof that its Powerball simulator is intentionally misleading.
USPoker does not guarantee the math in this article to be perfect due to its complexity. We have performed these calculations to the best of our abilities. We invite our readers to offer their own formulas in the comment section below to help us determine the exact probability of the outcomes presented.