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5:12pm on Sunday, 3rd July, 2005:

Indian Lottery


There's a certain type of lottery they run in parts of India that has a quite beautiful mechanic.

When poor people need money to get them out of the slums and into a better life, quite often they develop informal lotteries. The "numbers games" that used to be run by 1920s gangsters, for example, would have people paying a small stake and picking 3 numbers. If their numbers came up, they'd win many times what they bet, depending on the cut that the gangsters took (but generally about 600 times as much). The way the numbers were picked would be basically at random, eg. the final three digits of the daily balance of the US Treasury.

What they do in India is a little different. There, you pick your 3 digits and receive 1,000 times your stake if you win. That's pretty good! But how do the people who run it make a profit?

Ah, well the thing is, they pick the numbers that win. In other words, for your numbers to come up you simply have to choose the same numbers as the fewest other people. The winning numbers are published, the successful gamblers get their stake times 1,000 back, and the system repeats. There's no "draw", just a count.

I don't know what the average take is of the organisers of these Indian gambling rings; I don't even know what this kind of gamble (if that's what it is) is called. I love the way it works, though.

One of these days, I'm going to find a use for it in virtual world design.

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Copyright © 2005 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).