The Odds of Winning the Jackpot Lottery

When you play the jackpot lottery, you have a chance to win a fortune at a cost of just a couple bucks. For many, it’s just a harmless way to fantasize about winning, but for others—often those with the lowest incomes—it can become a real budget drain. In fact, critics argue that lotteries are really a disguised tax on those who can least afford it. Lottery retailers collect a percentage of each ticket sold and cash in when they sell a winning ticket, and research shows that those with lower incomes make up a disproportionate share of players.

The odds of winning the jackpot lottery are based on the number of numbers in the game and the size of the pool. The odds are much better in games with fewer numbers in play, such as 2by2, where winning requires matching four out of 52 possible combinations. In contrast, Powerball and Mega Millions require matching five out of 70 numbers, resulting in odds of 1 in 302,575,350.

Interest rates also affect the jackpot size. When the prize pool is advertised as a certain amount, that figure actually reflects how much the total prize pool would grow if it were invested in an annuity for 29 years. When interest rates go up, the total value of the jackpot goes up as well, although the actual sum of money won remains the same. Most winners choose to receive the prize in a lump sum, which is a single payment of the prize after taxes, or an annuity, which gives them 29 annual payments that increase by 5% each year. If they die before all 29 payments are made, the remainder goes to their heirs.

You can increase your chances of winning by purchasing more tickets, within reason. For example, the probability of winning the Mega Millions jackpot becomes 1 in 302,575,350 with one ticket and 2 in 302,575,350 with two. However, even when you’ve mathematically increased your odds by purchasing more tickets, the odds remain staggeringly low—so low that you’d be more likely to be struck by lightning than win the jackpot. If you don’t believe me, try this experiment: Toss a coin 28 times and see how many heads you get. It’s almost 300 times more likely to hit the jackpot than to win the lottery. Despite the bleak odds, some people have won huge amounts in the jackpot lottery. Using a combination of careful choice of numbers and some luck, they have managed to defy the odds. Here are a few of their stories: