Published March 20, 2014
UB faculty member Alan Hutson has a tip for all those candidates lining up to win Warren Buffett’s $1 billion sweepstakes for picking all 63 NCAA basketball tournament games.
It’s not going to happen.
That’s the message from Hutson, chair of the Department of Biostatistics and a member of the American Statistical Association.
“Warren Buffett didn’t make his billions by taking low odds on his business ventures,” says Hutson. “That’s why they threw $1 billion at it. It could have been a trillion for that matter.”
Hutson laid out the odds if each of the 63 games were like a coin flip, each team having a 50-50 chance of winning. Then picking two games correctly would be ½ times ½, or ¼, multiplying ½ by itself 63 times.
That works out to a probability of 1 out of 9,223,372,036,854,775,808.
True, the odds aren’t quite that long, Hutson points out, because those making choices on games don’t imagine their odds as 50-50. But even taking into consideration that people can play favorites, it doesn’t change the action enough to give anyone anything resembling a reasonable chance of winning the jackpot.
“No matter how good a prognosticator you are based on your basketball knowledge,” Hutson says, “the odds are still infinitesimal.”