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Mega Millions Lottery Jackpot Odds In Context

James Murphy
by in Lottery on
  • The nationwide Mega Millions Lottery Jackpot will be an estimated $790 million for Tuesday’s drawing.
  • Mega Millions games are available in 45 US states plus the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
  • The odds of winning the Mega Millions Jackpot are just over 1 in 302.5 million

Since we know that the odds of winning the Mega Millions jackpot are right around 1 in 302.5 million, we can put it into context. For some reason, humans underestimate the chance of commonplace events happening and overestimate the chance of the improbable happening. Classic example–there’s plenty of people who are afraid of flying despite the fact that you’re insanely safe on a commercial flight. The probability of dying in a crash considers a number of variables–route, airline, aircraft, weather and crew experience among others. At best, you’ve got a 1 in 20 million chance of dying in a crash. At worst, you’re talking 1 in 5 million. Most aviation experts throw around an ‘average’ probability of 1 in 11 million.

At the other end of the spectrum, your odds of a fatal crash while a driver or passenger in a car is roughly 1 in 110. Even so, you don’t hear the masses freaking out over the danger of car travel. That’s because the genetic wiring of humans makes it more difficult for them to conceptualize the difference between an extremely unlikely occurrence and one that is far more realistic. The term for this is ‘risk perception’ and humans aren’t very good at it.

The public excitement over a big lottery jackpot is a by-product of this phenomenon. Most people have certainly heard the 1 in 302.5 million odds of hitting the Mega Millions jackpot yet they wait in line–sometimes traveling to a neighboring state if necessary–just to buy tickets. Whenever there’s a big lottery jackpot I like to put the astronomical odds against winning in context against other highly unlikely eventualities like dying of a flesh eating virus (1 in 1 million) or being mauled to death by bears (1 in 2.1 million):

Odds of being killed

by the flu1 in 70
in a car accident1 in 111
by accidental gunshot1 in 8,359
by sun/heat exposure1 in 13,729
by a tornado1 in 60,000
by a bee sting1 in 79,842
by an earthquake1 in 110,000
by drowning in your bathtub1 in 840,000
by a flesh eating bacteria1 in 1 million
by an asteroid1 in 1.9 million
by a shark attack1 in 3.7 million
by a foreign born terrorist in the US illegally1 in 46.1 million

Another way of looking at it–you’re nearly 300 times more likely to get mauled to death by bears than you are to win the lottery. For a previous lottery jackpot I chained together a series of unlikely events: you’re statistically much more likely to be stuck by lightning in the morning, bitten by a shark at lunch and hit by a meteor before dinner while hitting a golf hole in one in the afternoon than you are winning the Mega Millions jackpot.

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