Why are raffles so exciting? What is it about buying a raffle ticket and waiting to see if your number is called that is just so appealing? For most people, it's the rush of the unknown, the idea that the end result is left to chance. But is it really?

Raffles depend upon possibilities, and, while it might seem random, there's actually a science to possibilities, known as probability theory.

The Founders

In the 1600's, two men laid the groundwork for probability. They were:

  • Pierre de Fermat, a French lawyer and amateur mathematician who made greatest stride in the creation of what is now known as calculus. He is best known for Fermat's Last Theorem.
  • Blaise Pascal was also French, although he was a professional mathematician and physicist, the result of being a child prodigy.

Pen Pals

Fermat and Pascal were close friends who did most of their work via letters to each other. It was 1654 when the two began to discuss probability. Fermat had been asked by a professional gambler why it was more likely for him to roll a six in four throws of the die than it was for him to roll two sixes in twenty-four throws of two die. The gambler was just looking for a leg up at the tables - little did he know that he was igniting an entire scientific principle!

Probability Theory

In a nutshell, probability theory is the analysis of random phenomena, and what could be more random than a raffle? The three main focuses of probability theory are random variables, events, and stochastic, or random, processes.

The number of raffle tickets sold, the number of people at an event, even the schedule of the event itself can influence how the raffle turns out. And while it's clear that someone with the intellect of Fermat and Pascal might be able to increase the odds in their favor, the bottom line is that nothing is a sure thing when it comes to raffles - and that's why they're so much fun!