ACCRA, Ghana — William Galley hasn’t always been a lottery “forecaster.” He used to lug concrete blocks around construction sites but he calls that work tedious.
“I use my brain to forecast,” he said.
Forecasters like Galley scratch out a living by trying to predict winning lottery numbers. It’s not quite the scam it appears to be. They believe, as do many players, that if they work hard to spot trends in past draws, they’ll be rewarded.
And in a country where workers earn $50 per month on average, the hope of even a small payout is enough to sustain the trade.
“Anything from your heart,” said Galley, a talkative 40-year-old father of two who is among the few cigarette-smoking Ghanaians. “I don’t charge. It’s a game of chance, so you can’t sell it to somebody, unless the person wishes to dash.”
A “dash” is a tip. To “stake” is to place a bet. You’re always welcome to “dash” up front although it’s more common to return and tip 10 percent if you win.
They acknowledge lottery is a game of chance — expensive machines randomly select numbers — but nonetheless pore over lists of winning numbers. They display their predictions on blackboards.
“The forecaster knows which numbers will come,” said Roland Apiiga, an occasional player. “Sometimes I run out of money. If I have money, then I will come.”
In downtown Accra, they come to a dirt lot near Makola Market lined with two-dozen lotto kiosks, small wooden structures painted green, yellow and red. Here is where they make their picks.
“We are researching the figures that will be drawn,” Galley explained one morning as he looked over a paper containing lists of winning draws as far back as the early 1960s. “It’s not easy. If you don’t make more research, how can you win?”
In Ghana’s fixed-odds daily game, players select five numbers between 1 and 90. Forecasters are happy to hit just two of the five, good for a decent payoff — enough to keep players coming back, anyway. It costs about 70 cents per ticket. Two winning numbers on a minimum bet nets the ticket-holder about $140. The jackpot for a minimum bet is about $25,000.
One forecaster who asked to withhold his name — so his wife doesn’t discover what he’s doing — explained how he picked winning numbers 54 and 1 in a draw five months ago.
Using the newspaper, he pointed to a row of winning numbers, including 54 and 1, from 1968. Then again in a 1996 draw — he circled them in red marker. That’s it. No discernible pattern, but that was the recommendation.
Business is sporadic, they say. Galley had two winning numbers about two months ago, but didn’t land many tips. His biggest payday was seven years ago when a winning “client” tipped him $55.
Many lottery winners worldwide believe fate plays a role in their good fortune. Ghanaians, most of whom are devout Christians, are no exception. There are prayers among forecasters and players alike.
“We are all praying for survival,” Galley said. “You pray to God. God can listen to your prayer and say ‘So my son, take it,’ but not always. It’s a game of chance so sometimes you lose.”
Lotteries date back centuries. The Great Wall of China was partly funded by lottery proceeds, according to some historians. Before they wrote the Constitution, America’s founding fathers used lotteries to support their military efforts against the British.
Forecasters or lottery “advisers” aren’t limited to Ghana. Gossip tabloids including the National Enquirer have run ads from lottery strategists and plenty of websites sell “systems” to win lotteries.
“It’s universal. People exploit gullibility. Look at Mr. Bernie Madoff,” said Peter Collins, executive director of the National Responsible Gambling Program in South Africa.
Forecasters are “total frauds,” he said.
“If they weren’t, they would have won the lottery and retired. The only time you can ever predict the result of a lottery is if you fixed it,” Collins said.
Gambling behavior has long intrigued researchers. In studying the Maryland state lottery, Charles Clotfelter and Philip Cook discovered recent winning numbers are rarely played again in the follow days, even though those numbers are as likely as others to be the next winners. It’s believed craps players experience the “illusion of control” by throwing dice hard or soft depending on what numbers they desire.
Most lotteries send proceeds to state-run funds for schools and other good causes. Ghana’s National Lottery Authority contributed $6 million to its development fund in 2007, making it one of government’s best domestic revenue sources.
The authority’s spokesman declined to comment, despite several attempts for interviews.
Among the Frequently Asked Questions on the authority’s website: “Is Lotto a game of chance or plans?”
Instead of a clear-cut answer, it responds: “Players try to monitor the recurrence of some numbers. They do this by checking the results of past draws. This way, they can plan and stake numbers based on their convictions of the chances of those numbers being drawn. People who often do these probability plans and give numbers to players are often referred to as Lotto Forecasters.”
Galley has been forecasting for 20 years, but wants to get out.
“I’m struggling. Still, I have a family. I’m struggling to get the big one so I can look [after] them. We don’t have jobs. So our job is this.”