The Powerball lottery jackpot continues to grow after Saturday’s drawing failed to produce a winner. This means the next drawing will be on Wednesday night March 27 at 10:59 PM Eastern for an estimated $750 million US. This would represent the third largest lottery jackpot in US history and the second largest Powerball jackpot. There hasn’t been a Powerball jackpot winner since the December 28, 2018 drawing which makes Saturday night’s ‘no winner’ draw the 25th straight. There were two tickets that matched five numbers with the ‘Power Play’ option good for $2 million. Eight others hit the five numbers but missed the Powerball number which pays $1 million.
The ‘true odds’ of hitting the jackpot are easy to figure with the five white balls combining to form 11,238,513 possible combinations. Add the 26 ‘Powerball’ numbers and you’ve got 292,201,338 possible combinations. That means you’ve got a 1 in 292 million shot at winning the jackpot. The odds to win the $1 million ‘consolation prize’ look reasonable by comparison at 1 in 11,688,053.
HOW NOT TO IMPROVE YOUR CHANCES OF WINNING A POWERBALL JACKPOT
I did some research following the Saturday night drawing and not surprisingly there was a ton of excitement for the forthcoming $750 million jackpot. There is also a ton of ‘advice’ on how to win the lottery on the web and in some cases distributed by the news media. I’m not sure what it says about the human condition that so many people are completely oblivious to the math that circumscribes the lottery. It’s pretty simple stuff yet people are convinced that there’s some ‘secret’ to winning the lottery. Search on Amazon and you’ll find dozens upon dozens of books with names like “Beat The Odds in the Lottery” and “Learn How To Increase Your Chances of Winning the Lottery”. Slightly more credible are titles like “Win the Lottery With The Law of Attraction” which at least take a different approach that doesn’t involve invalidating mathematics and probability theory.
Here’s a short list of variables that don’t matter when playing the lottery:
WHERE THE TICKET WAS BOUGHT
There are articles about ‘lucky states’ for lottery players and Powerball, MegaMillions and state lotteries gleefully report on the reseller where the ‘lucky ticket’ was purchased. Maybe it’s good for advertising but the numbers don’t know where you purchased the ticket. If you have the option you should buy your ticket in a state that allows you to remain anonymous should you win. Some states don’t have a state income tax while others don’t tax lottery winnings.
PLAYING THE SAME NUMBERS
During the last round of ‘Powerball Fever’ a ridiculous number of purportedly legitimate media outlets offered ‘advice on winning the lottery’ from a guy that claims to have won it 7 times. That alone is slightly less credible than a guy who claims to have Bigfoot in his freezer but the bigger issue is the tips he offers. One is to ‘avoid quick pick’ though his rationale is nonsensical:
“The “quick-pick” method works in number sets, which means every number doesn’t have the same amount of luck one would perceive. “Every time you buy a quick pick, you get a different set of numbers; therefore, your odds are always going to be at their worst in that particular game.”
What? Of course you get a different set of numbers. That’s the job of a random number generator in the first place. Ironically, using the ‘quick pick’ to provide a true randomization of the numbers is one of the few legit lottery ‘tips’ you’ll find. I’ll let Michael Shackleford aka the ‘Wizard of Odds’ explain it:
Choose the Quick Pick Option: If you play games based on choosing numbers, don’t choose them yourself. Human beings are awful at picking random numbers. If you do, and you win the jackpot, chances are you will have a lot of other people to share it with, who picked the same numbers for the same reason you did. Your odds are much better letting the computer choose numbers randomly with the Quick Pick option.
Business Insider adds some much needed skepticism suggesting that the only thing that the ‘7 time lottery winner’ has going for him is the services of a good publicist.
The premise is that if you always use the same set of numbers you’ll eventually be ‘due’ and the jackpot will hit. Nope. Every lottery drawing is an independent event. Wednesday’s drawing won’t be influenced in any way by Saturday’s drawing. Even assuming that the ‘use the same numbers’ theory was correct it would take 734,246 years to work its magic.
PREVIOUS WINNING NUMBERS/COMBINATIONS
What part of ‘independent event’ don’t you understand? This is a well known logical fallacy called the ‘Gambler’s Fallacy’:
Reasoning that, in a situation that is pure random chance, the outcome can be affected by previous outcomes.
It’s absurd how many people don’t get it. That’s why they have a ticker to track previous winning spins at roulette. There’s a sucker born every minute. Don’t be one of them.
OTHER WINNING JACKPOT ‘TRENDS’
Amazing that news media can offer ‘trends’ for winning the lottery with a straight face:
We’ve crunched the data and these are numbers that have popped up the most for the Powerball.
The numbers 32, 40, 7, and 12 are all good numbers to have on a ticket. They have been picked more than 21 times.
A number you want to stay away from? 67: that number has only been picked three times in the last eight years. When it comes to picking the Powerball, a good bet is 24. It has been the final number 38 times. A number you will want to avoid is 37.
Same deal as before. Independent events. Short sample size. Also see the ‘Law of Large Numbers’.
BUYING A BUNCH OF TICKETS
To be fair, this actually does improve your odds of winning a jackpot. The problem is that the incremental advantage is so minuscule as to not even matter:
So just how much does buying 500 Powerball tickets improve your odds of winning over, say, just one?
Assuming that each Powerball ticket purchased has a different number combination, any ticket provides a 1 in 292,201,338 chance of hitting the jackpot. Possessing a second ticket improves those odds to 2 in 292,201,338. Getting a third makes the odds 3 in 292,201,338. And so forth it goes.
So on one hand, you can say that buying a second Powerball ticket doubles your odds of winning the grand prize.
But on the other, you can say that a second ticket improves your odds from 0.0000003422% to … 0.0000006844%.
Buying additional tickets ‘increases your relative chance, but your absolute chance is tiny — so tiny that people don’t grasp it,’ Ronald Wasserstein, executive director of the American Statistical Association, told the Sun.
If you want to buy multiple lottery tickets there’s nothing wrong with it but don’t delude yourself into thinking that you’re ‘improving your chances of winning’. From a statistical standpoint it’s meaningless.
We’ll expand on some of these concepts should Wednesday’s drawing fail to produce a winner. Statistically speaking, the chances are favorable that there will be a winner on Wednesday. This isn’t clairvoyance or anything–it’s a simple function of the number of tickets sold which increases dramatically once a jackpot gets over $500 million.
POWERBALL LOTTERY $750 MILLION JACKPOT BETTING ODDS
WILL A JACKPOT WINNING POWERBALL TICKET BE DRAWN ON WEDNESDAY, MARCH 27?
HOW MANY JACKPOT WINNING POWERBALL TICKETS WILL BE DRAWN ON WEDNESDAY, MARCH 27?
4 or more +1000
TOTAL NUMBER OF TICKETS SOLD FOR THE POWERBALL DRAWING ON WEDNESDAY, MARCH 27?
Over 115 million -150
Under 115 million +130
Per Lotto Report website
WILL ANY POWERBALL JACKPOT WINNER (OR WINNERS) CHOOSE THE ANNUITY PAYMENT OVER THE LUMP SUM AMOUNT?
THE WINNING POWERBALL TICKET(S) IN WEDNESDAY’S DRAWING WILL BE SOLD IN WHAT STATE?
District of Columbia +3500
New Hampshire +3500
New Jersey +1500
New Mexico +3500
New York +1250
North Carolina +1500
North Dakota +3500
Puerto Rico +2100
Rhode Island +2500
South Carolina +1750
South Dakota +3500
Virgin Islands +3500
West Virginia +3500
All bets are action for Wednesday’s drawing. If no winning ticket is drawn all bets will be graded as a loss. If multiple winning tickets are drawn all states where they were sold will be graded as a win.