Keno's Odds and OdditiesHaving taught and lectured on the...


February 01, 1993

Keno's Odds and Oddities

Having taught and lectured on the mathematics of gambling for the past 20 years in Baltimore, I couldn't resist checking out the new Maryland keno game at a local pub.

What I found was not quite what I had expected -- and it was obvious that the state lottery officials did not consult a mathematician for advice.

The first thing that struck me as odd was the incorrect usage of the concept of odds on the game sheet. Odds and probability are related but are not equivalent.

If the odds of winning a particular game are 1:3, then the probability of winning is not 1/3, but rather 1/(1+3) or 1/4. The odds given on the keno game sheet are not odds but rather the probabilities of winning something, if you place a bet.

And even these are not completely accurate. For example, the probability of winning on the 9 spot is not 1/4.61 but rather 1/9.73.

All this is rather moot since the probability of winning a game is irrelevant and useless in and of itself. For example, if you wager $1 on a game and you are told that your probability of winning the game is 10 percent, you would not play the game if the payoff is only $1. But you might play it, if the payoff were $20.

What is important is the concept of expected winnings. That is, after an extended period of wagering, how much you are going to win for each $1 wagered.

Would you play a game where you bet $1 in order to win 57 cents? Probably not. In fact, you would probably say the game is a rip-off or scam. But that is exactly what the new Maryland game of Keno is paying out for each $1 wagered.

Without going into details, the expected or average winnings per $1 wagered ranges from a low of 50 cents for betting on one number to a high of 59.5 cents for betting on seven numbers. That is, if you played a single number at keno one hundred times at a dollar a game, you should expect to lose about $50. If you were playing keno in Las Vegas, you would 'only' lose about $25 of your original $100.

My advice on keno: Take your money and invest in a good mutual fund.

William D. Reddy


The writer is an associate professor of mathematics at Loyola College.

Master Sculptor

It was sad to see the magnificent statue of Thurgood Marshall depicted in The Sun without credit given to the man who created it: Reuben Kramer.

It was a major affront to not only Mr. Kramer, but to those of us who take great pride in Maryland's art community. As a Prix de Rome winner and a producer of the highest ranking art, Mr. Kramer is Maryland's master sculptor.

James A. Holechek


Deadly Smoke

This letter is addressed to those who claim that second-hand cigarette smoke can't harm others.

My mother never even experimented with cigarettes, but she died from lung cancer at the age of 54. My father, who smoked two packs of Camels a day for 70 years, innocently killed her.

He was a devoted, loving husband who cherished my mother, but back in 1970 little was known about direct effects of smoke, much less second-hand smoke. My childhood memories are of my father hacking and coughing until his face was beet red. He put us all in jeopardy while he slowly killed our mother.

If he had known then what we know now, he would have quit cold turkey, regardless of his addiction to nicotine.

If he were alive today, he never would have forgiven himself for denying her the right to see her children as adults and to enjoy her grandchildren and great grandchildren.

Helen Malone


Chelsea's School

I was pleased to see that you have an open enough mind to see Chelsea Clinton's schooling in a reasonable light (editorial, Jan. 10).

Just because Bill Clinton is president doesn't mean that he must give up his rights as a United States citizen. Everyone has the choice to send their children to private schools if he can afford it. Mr. Clinton certainly can, so he has every right to send Chelsea Clinton to Sidwell Friends School.

Opponents criticize Mr. Clinton by saying it contradicts his views on reforming public education. On the contrary, this proves his point. Public education is in such need of reform that even our president's daughter won't attend.

Kathy Elms

Ellicott City

Bad Access

Your Jan. 16 editorial commended Towson Commons for its "old-fashioned, walk-on-in accessibility." No argument here. Towson Commons may be easy to walk into, but for a newly constructed building, it is sadly lacking in "wheel-on-in" accessibility.

A person in a wheelchair can enter from the attached garage to the second floor. There, he or she is confronted by one elevator that is locked during evenings and weekends, and another that is up four steps.

Although there is a retro-fitted wheelchair lift, it is cumbersome to use and requires one to ask for assistance . . . Recent Federal legislation requires all public buildings to be accessible to people in wheelchairs. Though Towson Commons technically may conform with such a requirement, it fails to meet the spirit of the law.

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