Penalty Clause: Taken At Random: a short story by: GF Willmetts.

‘Who accepted this insurance?’ Gideon Snap asked, getting himself up-to-date as they wanted into the count building. ‘Someone somewhere is bound to make a mockery of it simply by winning the lottery.’

‘Yes, but his insurance is based on not winning for a set period, not a lifetime,’ Catchy Easton replied. ‘The rationalisation that most people never win the lottery. Not a small amount, just millions don’t.’

‘I would have thought it was a win-win situation. He doesn’t win, we pay up. He wins, then he gets the jackpot. He still comes out ahead.’

‘He told us the odds were against winning and betted that that. He wins, then we’ve got his money.’

‘Ah! As I said, ours would be chicken feed in comparison. Even with odds really against him. How much did he put up?’

Penalty Clause: Taken At Random: a short story by: GF Willmetts.
Penalty Clause: Taken At Random: a short story by: GF Willmetts.

There was a look at the pad before Catchy continued. ‘There was very long odds that he would win but we wouldn’t accept his offer of five pounds. Our rep said a minimum of one hundred pounds, figuring we would never have to pay up.’

‘I suppose we should be grateful he didn’t suggest one thousand pounds. With those odds, he could put us out of business.’

‘There were notes given at the time that he expected to lose the money, proving the odds of winning for the average person will totally against. He was betting that he would never win…but he did.’

‘So we pay up and prove we honour our debt. It’ll encourage ours to bet on low odds of winning.’

‘It isn’t the odds of his particular sum. More a token sum. A million really. He said he didn’t want more than that. As you say, chicken feed compared to his lottery win but he wasn’t after winning money from us. The court case isn’t against us. He’s suing the lottery company saying people wouldn’t bet if they thought the more obscure numbers had a greater chance of winning. We…You’re there as technical advisor.’

‘All lotteries have low odds of winning. That’s why the news media always wants to note big winners and the companies want them to. It encourages more people to play. Is there any significance in his numbers?’

There was another look at the pad and a shrug. ‘Just a run of consecutive numbers. He didn’t choose them at random but kept the same each week, as per our insurance agreement. They really are the lowest odds of winning even a few pounds. He stated jackpot only. Another smaller wasn’t in his sums.’

‘Yet he wins. I agree. It would have been a miracle if he won an outright jackpot. There would be no other winners because no one would go for a run of consecutive numbers.’

‘And we are here for?’

‘Expert witnesses. Would we have taken the bet if we thought his chances of winning were that good?’

‘We take on all manner of insurances against impossible odds. This one is quite ordinary compared to some we take on.’

‘Let’s hope he doesn’t ask for the devil to come to the witness stand. That would be even longer odds.’

‘He’s quite sane. He just wants to find proof that their random lottery generator isn’t totally random but picks out the rarest numbers.’

Catchy left Snap at the court entrance and he went in, nodding to the judge before sitting down. To one side was their client and, if the memo was correct, the other man was a programmer. Sitting behind them was a representative from the lottery company. The usher closed the door and stood guarding it.

‘Because of confidentiality, this will be a closed court.’ The Judge looked down at the people present. ‘The lottery company has no wish to disclose how its random number generator works to the public. This is more an enquiry not really needing lawyers until we can establish a crime has actually taken place. If it has, then this will go public because a law is being broke.

Can Gideon Snap please stand. This is only an enquiry but everyone here is under oath to speak the truth. For the record, can I ask what kind of policies your insurance company, Slim Chance, does? It’s not standard policies, is it?’

‘No, sir. Our regular, for the want of a better word, clients specialise in asking us for insurance against low odds possibilities. As with any insurance company, our profits come from those that don’t succeed paying for the very few that do. We are only a branch of our bigger insurance company dealing with such odds.’

‘For or against?’

‘Usually for them to happen but it depends on the kind of insurance to happen and we work out the odds accordingly.’

‘Do you use computer software to assist in the cost and odds?’

‘We looked at the algorithms but prefer to work out our own percentages. We can only blame ourselves if we get it wrong. The odds I should say, not whether we pay out of not.’

‘This was the case with this insurance.’

‘Yes, sir. I should point out that the insurance was for that particular run of lottery numbers, consecutive numbers I hasten to add, not to come up and a maximum of one million pounds payment given if they did. He did not expect to win over a set period.’

‘In comparison to how much he would get on the lottery, not very much.’

‘No, sir. It would not even require any usual checks because our client would have had no access or means to influence his numbers coming up.’

‘You normally check out such claims?’

‘Anything where the client can influence the outcome has to be checked in case of rigging or cheating. We ensure that clause is in all our insurances, especially with world record attempts.’

‘Do you know why he would make a bet that these consecutive numbers wouldn’t come up?’

‘We ask but don’t necessarily expect an answer. In this case, he thought it was impossible odds for him to win. He didn’t even want a massive return just a set amount if he won. They really do have the lowest odds. I can see his concern when they did.’

‘Sit down, Mr. Snap. Would the, what shall we call you, Mr. Alder, hardly an accuser yet. Would you please stand up.’

The man in the next seat set stood up.

‘To put things in perspective, Mr. Alder, why are you suing the Winning Lottery? After all, winning the lottery has made you wealthy.’

‘As my insurer, Slim Chance, points out the odds of my winning the jackpot with consecutive numbers have impossible odds. I noticed a similar pattern happening with them with low odds numbers over the past few years. Not all the time, I grant you, but there have been several instances of remote chance numbers winning. There was no way to check how many rarer than rare numbers there were in each draw but I did suspect a pattern so picked my own choice of rare numbers. As you point out whatever the result of this court, I’m still a very rich man but I would rather know I have the law on my side should, at a later date, it be discovered that some fraudulent issue comes up that I won’t have to return my winnings.’

‘Which of these issues do you regard as the most important?’

‘They are both connected. If there is some fraudulent issue, my money and all those others with random numbers winners will have to return the money or donate it to the government coffers. Winning Lottery would be the ultimate winner unless they donate these jackpots to charity.’

‘Do you have any proof before we talk to the software manufacturer?’

‘Only the fantastic odds against me winning. A programmed random number generator isn’t very hard to create. It is possible for the same numbers to come up occasionally. There has to be some coding to prevent the same number coming up in the same line but it wouldn’t be more than a line of code. So why is there such a big program?’

‘Do you have any proof of the size of this program?’

‘I approached the company to see if I could buy a version of the program and the brochure showed it was 20mB large.’

‘And you think what size it should be?’

‘Less that 2mB.’

‘I see.’

The Judge turned to the software representative, Estrava, from its software division now standing up.

‘We have respected your wishes not to have a public hearing and any disclosure of how your softworks in the public interest, Mr. Estrava, providing no crime has been committed, although the conclusions will be public record.’

Estrava raised his hand, but dismissive by the judge.

‘Everyone has to be honest here. I assume you would prefer to have public knowledge of not guilty than a cloud hanging over your company?’

Estrava nodded.

‘Then let’s see what your evidence provides. I was selected as judge because I have some familiarity with computers but for the few people hear, let’s not get too technical. Are you ready for some questions about your software?’

Estrava nodded again.

‘He’s quite right y’know. A random number generator doesn’t take up many lines in any computer language. I assume some lines are security. You can say yes for the record. Not speaking isn’t optional.’

‘Yes, sir. Sorry, sir.’

‘The nature of this court proceedings is to assess whether there is a crime taking place and your company’s program is at the core of this issue. Lawyers aren’t required until we can establish what kind of crime we have here and what needs defending. It also keeps the numbers down.’ The Judge smiled at his unintentional joke. ‘Something I have noticed, looking at the lottery statistics is you have no rollovers. That’s quite an achievement when this happens frequently with other lotteries. This was part of your instructions from the lottery company?’

‘Yes, sir. We were told to ensure there was always a weekly jackpot winner.’

‘In your own words, Mr. Estrava, will you explain the sub-routine that does this.’

‘Before I start, I should say that my representation here is to prove our software is fair. Factorial 50, the odds of selecting the right numbers, gives 3.04 to the power of 64 zeroes. The first selected number is removed and randomised against factorial 49 and so on until 5 numbers are achieved.

‘The chances of anyone winning is really against them. You have better odds with a roulette wheel. What our software does is take only the numbers of those who entered for any particular week and then select only from them, hence it is impossible to have a rollover. A literal you are in it to win it. Should more than one person have the same numbers, the money would be divided equally between them. The numbers are still vast but not as big as factorial 50. The extra routine checks the random choices is there and then print the hardcopy. We don’t do the matching to who actually wins.’

‘So you have no idea who gave the numbers?’

‘No, sir. That is only when the numbers are matched by another program from another company. This is kept separate so there is no duplicity from either company. That’s why there is no need for their representation here. The only reason the lottery company doesn’t really need to be here neither but wishes to watch the proceedings. Everything else is automated.’

‘Then we have the assertion of Mr. Adler that the odds of his 5 consecutive numbers coming up and that of other people with rare number choices are infinitely remote.’

The man nodded. ‘There are fewer numbers overall but its still not impossible under the program’s protocols. The main difference is only matching this formula to those who bet which reduces the odds against winning by a considerable number. We did check on this ourselves although we did not change the overall decision of the software or we would be breaking the law. Without resetting, the same numbers came up again. The odds are reduced. It does not seek out these rare number choices, they just get improved chances of coming up with only the numbers actually betted on not those that aren’t.’

‘So they can come up.’

‘Yes, sir. There is nothing else involved. There are no rollovers and real jackpot winners every week as per our contract.’

‘Would these odds changes affect the insurance as to whether they would come up?’

‘Only if someone made such a bet. We were not aware of this bet until we were called to court.’

‘Such as our Mr. Adler here.’

Estrava nodded. ‘I should point out that all numbers selected have an even chance of winning. If there is no match with numbers put together at random which, based on factorial 50 can happen a lot, then the number found is connected to the order the numbers were entered.’

‘So a nearly impossible number can come up.’

‘Yes, sir, but only from time to time. They have an even chance with all other numbers and selected at random.’

‘Enough for Mr. Adler’s suspicions but not necessarily when it would come up.’

‘Yes, sir. It would appear that way without knowing how the numbers are selected.’

‘You wouldn’t know which option came up?’

‘None of my team are there but it could be determined by the length of time before the result comes up.’

‘As you point out, factorial 50 is far larger than even the big numbers of those who take part in this weekly lottery, so what happens if the number corresponding to a selected number doesn’t come up?’

‘Then it will cycle until that happens. Much of the program space is to keep going until all the number choices for the week are covered.’

‘No one can put in their own numbers in after the fact?’

‘No, sir. Although there is a hardcopy, the numbers are fed directly into the computer holding the matching names and then a hardcopy which can be compared to the first hardcopy so it can be checked. It ensures the integrity in front of witnesses.’

‘And you are willing to sell this program to anyone?’

‘Only variations, not the actual one we sold to the Winning Lottery. As you point out, sir, it is only a number generator. We tell the Winning Lottery if any of their competitors express an interest but the others prefer massive rollovers than giving everyone a weekly chance.’

‘I can see nothing wrong here. Are you satisfied with Mr. Estrava’s answers, Mr. Adler?’

‘It seems more than adequate, sir. Looks like I am a lucky winner.’

‘And you, Mr. Snap. Would this change your company’s policy should someone bet against winning on this particular lottery?’

‘Considering only eight extreme odds have come up in two years, the odds are still very low. We might suggest to clients that they should bet they came up than against coming up with this company.’

‘If everybody here is happy then I can see no criminal action taking place here. Do any of you object about a statement released to the press? It’s hardly likely to be damaging to your companies. Certainly the Winning Lottery won’t suffer any harm from this although disclosure of how the program works should be kept…let’s call it discrete for the moment.’

The End…them’s the odds.

© GF Willmetts 2023

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