MY MONEY

The Melbourne Cup: why you didn't win

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If you're one of the millions of Australians who ended Tuesday a few dollars worse off, you can at least console yourself with one simple fact - you are never likely to profit from the Melbourne Cup. While a lucky few people will walk away from the office sweepstakes or from the bookies with a heavier wallet, the vast majority will not.

A little perspective

For most people, their financial investment in the race goes no further than a sweepstakes ticket. With 24 runners this year, picking one ticket at random gives you about a 4% chance of clinching the jackpot. That might not sound bad but, at least according to Ladbrokes, it's about half as likely as the Catholic Church electing a female Pope before the end of 2017 ($15).

That's not to suggest everyone's ticket has an equal chance. This year's favourite, Hartnell, is priced at $5 and the rank outsider, Rose of Virginia, is $151. Put another way, depending on which number you draw, your chances range somewhere between those of Donald Trump ($4) and Joe Biden ($151) to become the next US president ... and Biden's not even a candidate.

Doubling down

More committed gamblers often try to pick more than just the winning horse. A quinella - picking the identity of the first two horses to cross the line - could pay between $21 and $3701.

Similarly, picking the winner and the first two runners-up (a boxed trifecta) could return odds of between $49 and $82,446.

The supremely confident might opt to call the winner and the first three runners up (a first four.) Even picking the shortest-priced horses will still give you odds comparable to those offered on Prince Harry choosing to marry Johnny Depp's ex-wife (and Barnaby Joyce's dog-smuggling nemesis), Amber Heard.

There's always hope

If some of these comparisons make it seem as if you have no chance, you should always remember that unlikely outcomes do happen all the time.

This year has already seen the Brexit vote, Leicester City winning the Premier League, both the AFL and NRL premiers snapping half-century losing streaks, a rock musician winning the Nobel Prize for literature and, most improbable of all, Australia reaching November without changing prime minister.

If that can happen, anything can.

Outcome Approximate odds
Donald Trump next US President $4
Favourite Hartnell wins Melbourne Cup $5
UK votes to leave European Union (June 2016) $9
Female Pope before end of 2017 $15
Randomly selected sweepstake ticket wins Melbourne Cup $24
Twilight actress Kristen Stewart cast as next James Bond $33
Most likely boxed trifecta in Melbourne Cup $141
Most likely first four in Melbourne Cup $141
Outsider Rose of Virginia wins Melbourne Cup $151
Joe Biden next US president $151
Prince Harry marries Amber Heard $201
Michelle Obama next US president $501
Egg contains double yolk $1000
Australia wins 2017 Rugby League World Cup, 2018 FIFA World Cup and 2019 Rugby Union World Cup $2850
Leicester City win 2015-16 Premier League (July 2015) $5001
Least likely boxed trifecta in Melbourne Cup $82,446
Royal flush dealt as poker hand $649,740
Hit by lightning next year $960,000
Flipping a fair coin 21 times and getting the same outcome (heads/tails) all 21 times $1,048,576
Least likely first four in Melbourne Cup $1,401,582

Dr Stephen Woodcock is senior lecturer in mathematical sciences at the University of Technology Sydney. His research focuses on applied probability and modelling random systems.

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Dr Stephen Woodcock is senior lecturer in mathematical sciences at the University of Technology Sydney. His research focuses on applied probability and modelling random systems.
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