Is it luck or statistical probability of the Irish?

On March 17, everyone “gets their Irish on.” Even those who have absolutely no connection to Ireland or Irish people celebrate St. Patrick’s Day—St. Paddy’s Day (not St. Patty’s Day.)

You see a lot of people wearing green—and some folks really wear green. Others like to just eat Irish food and drink Irish beer. Some go for “green” beer, and there may be more than a few people feeling a little green on March 18 if they’ve overindulged on St. Paddy’s Day.

Another celebration is to perhaps buy lottery tickets or visit a casino because you think the “luck of the Irish” will be with you. Is it luck, or is it a case of a statistical probability?

Dr. Jeffrey Rosenthal is a professor in the departments of Statistical Sciences and Mathematics at the University of Toronto, and the author of Struck by Lightning, the Curious World of Probabilities, says he does not believe in luck. He says he never buys lottery tickets because he figures the odds against winning are too great.

He was interviewed about ‘luck” on the CBC program “Fresh Air” and he mentioned a lot of things that people may feel “lucky” about, including not getting sick, or avoiding something bad—like losing a job, having a car accident, etc. Rosenthal put it this way: If someone loses a job, and his co-worker doesn’t, does that mean that the co-worker was luckier? No, there are a lot of factors, and if a company has to lay people off, the numbers are determined by the size of the company, the worker’s length of service, and the financial health of the company—nothing to do with luck.

In a TVOntario interview, taped in 2006, Rosenthal talks about the probabilities and risks of many things, including the odds of winning money at a casino—something that many feel has to do with luck.

He notes that the probabilities are always in favour of the “house.” In some games, there may be a higher probability of you winning, but the percentage of your win will always be lower than what the casino takes.

Go ahead and rub that four-leaf clover, stroke that rabbit’s foot, or do whatever else you do to bring yourself some luck. But don’t really expect it to change the outcome. If things turn in your favour, you can, like a leprechaun, thank your lucky stars. Although whether you see any stars on any given night really is a case of statistical probability.

So, do you believe in luck? Join this conversation, and for something completely different, join me back here on March 31 for a “blog hop.”


6 thoughts on “Is it luck or statistical probability of the Irish?

  1. Perhaps when good fortune seems to follow people and we consider them “lucky” it isn’t luck at all, but the belief they have in themselves.

    There was sure a lot of green in every shape and form around here yesterday! We are all “lucky” to be here. 🙂

  2. Christine: I have never been a big fan of luck and consider myself as unlucky and as a result I avoid the casino. However; your comments on all things green brought back great memories of when my children were young and their Dad would make a big production of preparing green milk for them. With both parents of Irish decent the kids thought this was great fun until one year when they became sick after drinking the milk. I don’t think there was a connection between the milk and getting sick but it ended a family tradition.


    1. Thanks for joining this conversation, Lillie. I love the idea of the green milk for the kids. Sorry they got sick one year and associated it with the milk. Funny how those things stick with us. It is nice though to remember the different “traditions” we’ve started and stopped over the years.

  3. Yes, I believe in luck. In fact, I’m feeling lucky this very moment, and your post has reminded me that I have a lottery ticket that needs checking. Happy St. Paddy’s Day to you, Christine.

    1. I hope that lottery ticket paid off, Doreen. Things have been going well for you lately with the book, and more good things are to come, but they are more to do with all of the hard work you’ve done! Maybe there’s a little luck in there too.

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