What Are the Odds of Winning the Lottery?

How to Improve Your Luck

Balbir Atwal, owner of the California 7-Eleven that sold one of the 3 Powerball winning tickets, holds up a $1 million check after received from the California State Lottery, in front of his store on January 14, 2016 in Chino Hills, California.

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On October 23, 2018, the largest single winning Mega Millions ticket was sold in South Carolina. The total reached $1.537 billion. The Powerball on that day was $620 million. That's a combined jackpot of $2.157 billion.

The Mega Millions is almost as large as the biggest lottery jackpot ever. That was a Powerball totaling $1.586 billion. On January 13, 2016, authorities announced three winning tickets in California, Tennessee, and Florida.

That beats Mega Millions on March 31, 2012. Three winners split a $656 million jackpot. The winning tickets were sold in Illinois, Maryland, and Kansas. Those states don't have to reveal the names of the winners. On October 13, 2018, Mega Millions edged closer to the record, reaching $654 million. The prior largest Powerball payout was $590.5 million. Gloria C. Mackenzie, an 84-year old Floridian, won on June 5, 2013. 

The odds of winning either the Powerball or Mega Millions are roughly the same: 175 million to one. Despite those odds, one-third of Americans believe that winning the lottery is the only way they will ever retire. But how likely is it? Here's a humorous look comparing the odds of winning the lottery to some other lucky and unlucky events. That's followed by strategies that are more likely to win you a bountiful retirement.

Things That Are More Likely Than Winning the Lottery

If you believe in the odds of winning the lottery, then you should never fly or drive. You are more apt to be killed in a plane crash, where the odds are 25 million to one, and far more likely to die in a car accident, where the odds are only 5,000 to one.

Similarly, you should start sleeping on the floor. The odds of being killed by falling out of bed are 2 million to one. You should also take showers instead of baths. The odds of drowning while taking a bath are 840,000 to one. But don't think you can improve your chances by avoiding cleanliness altogether. The odds of dying from flesh-eating bacteria are only 1 million to one.

Maybe you'll have better luck outside. Not! The odds of being killed by lightning are 2 million to one while being mauled to death by a dog are 700,000 to one. Bring your anti-venom kit outdoors with you. You are even more likely to die from a snake bite or bee sting, where the odds are 100,000 to one.

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 becoming a movie star are only 1.5 million to one. The odds of getting a royal flush in the first hand of poker are just 649,740 to one. Even better for guys, the odds of dating a supermodel are just 88,000 to one.

To put it all into perspective, consider this. Scientists have calculated that there is just a 300 to one chance that asteroid 2004 MN4 will strike the Earth on April 13, 2029. The asteroid is about a quarter mile, or 400 meters, wide. That is larger than the asteroid that carved out Meteor Crater in Arizona. It's also bigger than the one that flattened thousands of square miles of forest in Siberia in 1908.

Things You No Longer Have to Worry About

OK, time for a little cheering up again. Many bad things are less likely to happen than winning the lottery. For example, it's safe to go back into the water. The odds of dying from a shark attack are 300 million to one, only half as likely as winning the lottery. Swimming with the sharks is much safer than petting a dog, driving your car, or sleeping in your bed. 

How to Improve Your Odds

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, they tend to be the luckiest. There is less chance of someone else picking a duplicate number. Furthermore, only 30 percent of the winning numbers were the players' "lucky" numbers. 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.

Second, be sure to play the $1 million or $2 million second prize in the Powerball. There, you only have to match five of the six numbers. Those odds are one out of 5 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

Perhaps you are one of those who consider the lottery their best chance of retiring. Well, consider this comparison instead. Let's say you currently buy a $2 lottery ticket every week for the next 17 years, and before the 300 to one chance the asteroid hits Earth. 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 percent return, you would have accumulated $2,926. Doesn't sound like much, does it? Let's say you invested $2 a day instead. You would wind up with $20,5361 by 2029.

Your return will probably be greater than that. Before the 2008 financial crisis, the average stock market return was 10 percent a year. If you get that return over the next 17 years, then your $2 a day would become $33,287. True, that's not enough to retire on. But what if you increased it to $5 a day? You'd wind up with $83,220. Or double that and invest $10 a day, you'd get $166,436. 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.