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Thunderball Changes

On Wednesday 12th May 2010, the Thunderball changed quite radically as follows:

FeatureOld ThunderballNew Thunderball
Jackpot prize
£250,000 £500,000
Number of main balls3439
Odds of winning jackpot
14*34!/(5!*(34-5)!) =
1 in 3,895,584
14*39!/(5!*(39-5)!) =
1 in 8,060,598
Lowest match to win 1+T/ball (£5) T/ball only (£3)
Draws per week 2 (Wed, Sat) 3 (Wed, Fri, Sat)

Note that everything else stays the same, including the £1 stake, 14 Thunderballs to pick from and prize amounts/matches below 5+Thunderball and above Thunderball only.

So what are the issues with the Thunderball changes? Let's go through them one by one:

Doubling of the jackpot prize

It's a pity that they couldn't have made this £1m instead of £500,000, but with the odds of winning it only just over twice the old Thunderball's, they couldn't really stretch it any further. The jackpot prize is now also identical to Dream Number's, which doesn't help matters (if you're going to have to fixed rather then variable prizes, it makes sense to have different jackpots for different games surely?).

Number of main balls increased

Camelot needed to do this in order to be able to adjust the prize structure, which is fair enough, but it does make the odds of winning jackpot more than twice as unlikely.

Odds of winning more than twice as worse

I have a bit of an issue with the odds of winning the new Thunderball on two grounds. Firstly, it's starting to close the odds gap between the Thunderball and main Lotto (8m to 1 vs. 14m to 1) and secondly, you can't win £1m even with the jackpot odds being more than twice as worse as the old Thunderball.

Lowest match to win is now the Thunderball only

Camelot obviously worked out that there was some "spare" prize pool money left over even with the doubled jackpot prize, so it went on matching just the Thunderball (£3 for doing that). However, this has left a deficiency of the old Thunderball present (no prize for 2 main balls on their own) and introduced a new deficiency (no prize for matching 1 main ball on its own), so is quite inadequate really. They'd have been better off adding a prize for matching 2 main balls on their own, though I suspect the new prize structure couldn't have coped with that.

Three draws per week

I can only surmise that a new Friday draw was added out of pure greed on Camelot's part. There is no other logic to this (the main Lotto, Dream Number and Hotpicks are all twice-weekly games, so why does Thunderball suddenly have to become a thrice-weekly game after many years of just Wednesday and Saturday draws?). I'm also concerned that sales for Friday's Thunderball will be poor for 2 obvious reasons: people aren't used to playing Friday Thunderball and may skip it forever and secondly, it is directly up against the Euro Millions on Friday nights with its huge jackpots.

So what "obvious" thing did Camelot fail to change in the old Thunderball that would have made it a hugely exciting game? One word: rollovers. Thunderball is a fixed prize game - jackpots are not shared amongst the winners and this why Camelot have been scared of adding rollovers to the game (because if, say, the prize had rolled over to £1m and ten people won it, they wouldn't have enough in the prize pool to pay it).

This fixed jackpot vs. rollover dilemma is easily fixed in one of two ways. Firstly, they could put aside a percentage of the ticket sales as a reserve fund to pay for multiple jackpot winners. Failing that, they could simply say that if it's a rollover draw, the jackpot prize pool is shared whereas if it's not a rollover it isn't.

In conclusion, Camelot's Thunderball changes are somewhat clumsy - no £1m jackpot, more than twice as long odds to win the jackpot, no match 1 or 2 main numbers only prize tiers, a third draw on Fridays for no logical reason other than greed and, critically, no rollovers to spice the game up (and finally allow £1m jackpot prizes in Thunderball!).

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