Warren Buffett Backs Billion Dollar March Madness Contest


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In a move apt to bring a smile to the face of every statistics geek on Earth, Warren Buffett is backing a one billion dollar payout for anyone who can perfectly pick the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. Quicken Loans is running the contest, and the payout, in the extremely unlikely event that there is a payout, will be backed by Buffett’s multinational holding company Berkshire Hathaway.

How unlikely is it that someone will pick the perfect bracket? Pretty darn unlikely. The odds of a perfect bracket randomly coming together (that is, without paying any attention to who’s playing whom) is one in nine quintillion. That’s nine quintillion as in nine million-trillion, or, if you prefer 9,000,000,000,000,000,000.

Of course, given that no one picks a bracket entirely at random, it’s impossible to calculate the actual odds of someone winning. It’s a long shot, though, to say the least. Buffett and a fellow executive crunched the numbers to see what the odds of someone making informed decisions winning the prize would be. He said that they came up with a rough estimate, noting that the two of them “were in the same ballpark, but it’s a big ballpark.”

John Diver, who runs ESPN’s bracket contest, said that not one person in the 13-year history of their bracket contest has come close to picking perfectly. In fact, only one person has picked the first round correctly in the past seven years.

"I will invite [any potential winners] to be my guest at the final game and be there with a check in my pocket,” joked Buffett, “but I will not be cheering for him or her to win. I may even give them a little investment advice."

If there is a winner, he or she will opt between receiving annual payments of $25 million for forty years or a lump sum of $500 million. In the vastly less likely event that there are multiple winners, the pot will be split evenly. Contestants can sign up beginning on March 3 and can fill out their brackets once the field is finalized on March 16. Entry in the contest is free.

And, just to put it all in context, here’s a list of other unlikely things:

the odds of winning Powerball are 1-in-175 million;
the odds of winning MegaMillions are 1-in-259 million;
the odds of having a specific license plate number (assuming three letters and three numbers on the plate) are 1-in-17 million; and
the odds of shuffling a deck of cards into any particular sequence are 1-in- 80,658,175,170,943,878,571,660,636,856,403,766,975,289,505,440,883,277,824,000,000,000,000

Bonne chance!

Image via Wikimedia Commons