One day recently, Larry Love pointed to a box of numbers in his tip sheet, Lotto Edge, and said in a voice that was three-fourths conviction and one-fourth hope, "These numbers just haven't been hitting. They have to start coming up." Two days later, Love was ecstatic. Five of the six numbers drawn that week in the state's Lotto 6/49 game, and the bonus number as well, had appeared on his "25 Most Probable" list.
Frank Markovic was not impressed. In fact, he said Larry Love is misleading people.
"One number isn't any more probable than the others, because Lotto is random," said Markovic, who happens to sell devices that choose numbers randomly. "The best way to play is to pick numbers by random. Then if you win, you'll get more money than people who play lucky numbers or birthdays (commonly played numbers that tend to split winning pools)."
Love, 36, of Los Angeles, and Markovic, 32, of Van Nuys, hope to make a living from the Lotto 6/49 game, but not as players. They are among a growing number of entrepreneurs who offer products and services related to Lotto, the numbers game introduced in October by the California State Lottery to counter flagging sales of scratch-off tickets.
One company sells legal contracts designed to protect players who pool their money and might lose a big prize to a partner who absconds. Another has converted old postage-stamp machines so that, for a quarter, they dispense six numbers to persons who cannot think of their own. Several 976-prefix services also provide sets of numbers at $2 a crack, one of them from a recording calling herself Sexy Salame. ("They call me sexy because I'm hot, and I've got six hot numbers just for you.")
But mathematicians generally agree that gimmicks and advisers can do little, if anything, to improve a person's chances of winning.
"There are no systems at all that will help you if you are playing against a fair machine and against a fair house," said USC mathematics professor Louis Gordon. "The game is set up so that the house beats nearly everybody."
Gordon cited the 50% cut taken by the state from the Lotto pool, along with the infinitesimal one-in-nearly-14-million chance of picking six of six numbers, as reasons why Lotto is a poor bet. He said the game remains a poor bet even when no one wins the grand prize and it is "rolled over," or added to the following week's grand prize pool.
Yet people are playing. Tickets sales in recent weeks have averaged 12 million, and the number is rising. Growing, too, is the range of services and products available to players. Herschel Elkins, head of the consumer protection section of the state attorney general's office, said many Lotto entrepreneurs bend the law, but can do so with impunity.
'Consumer Is Being Misled'
"Certainly all these advertisements that say they can benefit you are misleading," said Elkins, "or else the whole random basis of the thing (the Lotto drawing) is wrong. So the consumer is being misled. But the difference is that the state has gotten into gambling."
Elkins compared questionable Lotto advisers to horse racing touts, who often promise more than they deliver but who are tolerated because they exist in a state-sanctioned industry that generates significant tax dollars.
A lottery spokesman said that as long as Lotto advisers "don't represent themselves as being part of the state operation, there's no problem." The lottery's security division is aware of no cases of fraud in connection with Lotto, he said, adding that sting operations and arrests thus far have been confined to counterfeiters of scratch-off tickets.
In Pennsylvania in 1980, however, four people were convicted of rigging that state's lotto game by injecting paint into all the balls except numbers four and six, increasing the likelihood that they would be drawn.
Even blatantly illegal operations, such as companies that solicit Californians to place bets by telephone on out-of-state lotteries, are largely ignored by authorities.
"For one thing, we never get complaints," Elkins said. "Also, they have 800 numbers and they're out of state. They probably figure they won't be extradited."
Elkins and others note that some Lotto pitches are aimed at particularly gullible buyers.
New York astrologer Lynne Palmer will provide a daily forecast of your gambling luck for $40 a month. Bishop L. L. Foster, who calls his Sacramento company the World of Spiritual Numerology, will draw up your "unique vibration calendar" for $19.95. Zeina Amara, a columnist in lottery magazines, claims to see numbers "not as figures, but as tiny living beings with their own personalities and behavior patterns."
Nearly all Lotto entrepreneurs say their business is growing because the public wants to play the game but doesn't understand it well. Lottery officials agree, predicting that Lotto 6/49 and its clones (a second game with a three- or four-number drawing is being developed) eventually will pass scratch-off games in popularity.