What Are the Odds of Winning the Lottery?

How to Improve Your Luck

A couple looking happy after winning a lottery

 Tanya Constantine / Getty Images

More than a third of Americans believe winning the lottery is the only way they will ever retire comfortably. But the odds of winning either the Powerball or Mega Millions are roughly 1 in 292.2 million and 1 in 302.5 million, respectively.

Compare these odds to some other unlikely scenarios and consider whether there might be a more foolproof way to cement your financial future. Strategies that are more likely to win you a bountiful retirement don't depend on blind luck—just discipline.

Things That Are More Likely Than Winning the Lottery

Just how likely is it that you'll hit it big in the lottery? Well, the odds are much worse than the probability of your death as a result of one of these:

  • Plane crash: 11 million to one
  • Car accident: 106 to one
  • Falling out of bed: 2 million to one
  • Flesh-eating bacteria: 1 million to one
  • Lightning strike: 1.2 million to one
  • Dog mauling: 118,776 to one
  • Snakebite: 50 million to one
  • Shark attack: 3.75 million to one

Turns out swimming with the sharks is safer than petting a dog, driving your car, or sleeping in your bed. 

If these statistics have you feeling a little paranoid, cheer up. Many good things are also more likely to happen than winning the lottery. For example, the odds of getting a royal flush in the first hand of poker are just 649,739 to one.

To put it all into perspective, consider this. Scientists calculated in 2004 that there was a 60-to-one chance that asteroid 2004 MN4 would strike the Earth on April 13, 2029. The asteroid is about a quarter-mile wide—larger than the asteroid that carved out Meteor Crater in Arizona. And it was still more likely to hit the planet than you were to hit the jackpot.

Fortunately for Earth-dwellers, scientists revised their predictions for the asteroid; it's no longer predicted to hit Earth at all, just skim very close. Your chances of winning the lottery are equally as slim.

How To Improve Your Odds of Winning

If you've read all these statistics, and still want to play the lottery, here are some ways to improve your chances. First, use the computer-generated numbers because they tend to be the luckiest, and there is less chance of someone else picking a duplicate number. Whatever you do, don't pick "lucky" seven, 11, or a birthday; you can be sure that someone else will have also picked those numbers.

Also, be sure to play the $1 million or $2 million second prize in the Powerball, where you only have to match five of the six numbers. Those odds are one out of 11.6 million. You get even better odds if you just play in the state lotteries instead of the national one. 

How To Improve Your Chances of Attaining Retirement

If you are one of those who consider the lottery their best chance of retiring, consider this comparison instead: Let's say you buy a $2 lottery ticket every week for 20 years. There is little likelihood, based on the odds, that you would have won.

If you instead invested that $2 a week in securities and got a 5% return, you would have accumulated $3,528. It may not sound like much, but if you invested $2 a day instead, you would wind up with $24,663 after 20 years. The average stock market return is 10% a year; if you got that rate of return over 20 years, then your $2 a day would become $43,721. That may not be enough to retire on, but if you increased it to $5 a day, you'd wind up with $109,283. $10 a day would get you $218,553. Now you're talking.

The point is that you do have better odds for a successful retirement if you plan for it than by playing the lottery. You don't have to depend on fate, chance, or luck. You can take matters into your own hands, starting today.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How many people play the lottery each year?

According to a 2016 Gallup poll, nearly half of all Americans participate in state lotteries. There are over 330 million people in all of the U.S., meaning that nearly 165 million play the lottery each year.

Do you pay taxes on what you win from the lottery?

Yes, you do. If you take your lottery winnings in a lump sum, you'll find yourself in the highest tax bracket and paying 37% in taxes. If you take the winnings split up over time, you will at least have to pay 25% for any winning amount over $5,000.

What would happen if you saved the money you paid on lottery tickets instead?

If you were to save the $2 it takes to buy a lottery ticket, you could potentially save $60 a month if you played the lotto at every opportunity. That's $720 a year in your savings that otherwise wouldn't be there. It may not be as exciting as winning the lottery, but it can add up over the years.