Why You Didn’t Win the Powerball Jackpot

January 14, 2016 | Elizabeth Knowles

A 100 dollar bill on a fishing hook
Photo credit: Tax Credits/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

And why you were probably never going to.

Buying a lottery ticket is a bit like fishing. You spend your money, dangle a worm on the end of your hook and hope that the fish doesn’t swim away with it leaving you empty handed. It sounds like a great idea. For just a couple of dollars, you could get the chance to win over 1.4 billion dollars — the big fish. On the other hand, you could keep your two dollars (or however much you would spend) and know at least you have that and that you’re not just throwing money at the fish.

Powerball is a pretty basic lottery. You pick five numbers between one and 69, and one number between one and 26. To figure out the odds of getting all six numbers right, you have to multiply out the chances of getting each one right:

69 x 69 x 69 x 69 x 69 x 26= 40,664,815,074.

Then, because it doesn’t matter what order the first five balls are drawn in, you have to divide the whole thing by 5! or “5 factorial,” the mathematical way of saying 5 x 4 x 3 x 2 x 1.

40,664,815,074/5! = 292,201,338

That’s right. You have a one in almost 300 million chance of getting all 6 numbers right.

SEE ALSO: Can Science Predict if He or She is “The One?”

Let me give you a few statistics for reference’s sake, all of which apply to Americans.

Your chances of dying by being struck by lightning: 1 in 164,968.

The chances of giving birth to quadruplets: 1 in 800,000.

Becoming president of the United States: 1 in 10,000,000.

Are you still thinking that that lottery ticket was such a great idea? Sure, there were smaller prizes too, but even to guarantee yourself a simple $4 prize, you would have had to buy 26 tickets, with a different Powerball number each time. That’s $52 for a $4 prize. Hum… I’m not convinced!

SEE ALSO: How Many Times Should You Shuffle a Deck of Cards?

Well, you might have gotten really, really lucky and won a bigger prize. If not, here is a tip for next time. The more people play Powerball, the more chance there is of you having to split winnings with one or more other people. You are best off not using your “lucky numbers” when picking the numbers you buy, because chances are they are also someone else’s lucky numbers.

Many people will go with a particular date, but remember that there are a maximum of 31 days in a month, only 12 months in a year and that most people currently alive were born in the last 100 years. That means that sets of numbers including these digits are far more likely to be picked, and thus duplicated. Your best bet is to let a computer randomly choose numbers for you — or not to buy a lottery ticket at all.

According to the New York Times, “People with more money spend more on lottery as a total, but they spend a negligible percentage of their income on it,” said Professor Just of Cornell, who just completed his third study of the lottery, this one focusing on Maine. “But people on lower income ranges spend sizable percentages of their income on lotto.” So, if these are desperate times for you, this is especially not the right time to be buying a lottery ticket.

Still not convinced? Try spending some imaginary money in the Powerball simulator and watch it disappear!

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