If you've played the Powerball drawings and lost, would you like to improve your odds of winning the multi-million dollar jackpot? The head of the University of Tennessee's math department explains whether it's possible to beat the odds.
People say getting struck by lightning is a better bet than winning a lottery. But the National Association of States and Provincial Lotteries web site says that in 1996, 1,136 people won $1,000,000 or more playing lotteries in America. And 4,520 others won $100,000 or more.
By contrast, the lottery association says that in 1996 only 91 people were killed by lightning. So does that make Powerball a good bet?
"The chances of getting all of these numbers right are computed by something called binomial coefficients," Bob Daverman explained.
If you buy one ticket and your neighbor buys 10, of course your neighbor has an increased chance of winning. However, "Neither of you has much of a chance. But he does have 10 times as much as you do," Daverman said.
And at 120 million to 1 odds, Daverman did the math. You'd have to buy a lot more than 10 or even a 100 or 1,000 tickets to dramatically increase your chances of winning. "If you want a 50-50 chance of winning the lottery, you've got to buy 60-million tickets," he said.
So is it possible, beyond spending more in tickets than the jackpot is often worth, to gain an advantage in a Powerball drawing? The answer is, not really.
"There's no difference amongst those 120 million numbers," Daverman said. "But many people like to go for what they think are their lucky numbers. Those are often computed using birthdays and things like that. So it's a more limiting set of numbers."
That means you can increase your odds of being a single winner by choosing numbers outside those that tend to be over-selected such as 1 to 12 for months and 1 to 31 for days.
And if you buy a $1.00 ticket, "The real difference is you're out a dollar and I'm not," Daverman said. "I have no chance. You have an infinitesimal chance. So you're better off if you like the chance. I'm better off if I value my dollar."
Daverman said if you like playing the lottery, play for the dream of winning. But don't play it to win. "What's the quote about the lottery? The lottery is a tax on people who are bad at mathematics."
The Powerball web site says anyone who plays the game has a 1 in 36 chance of winning something. The odds of winning $3.00 are 1 in 70. The odds increase to 1 in 124 for a $4.00 prize.
And here's a fact that might keep you from buying a ticket altogether. If you drive to the store to buy Powerball tickets, putting at least two miles on your odometer, your chances of being involved in a deadly crash are four times greater than your chances of winning the Powerball jackpot.