The Odds — and Risks — of Playing the Lottery

Americans spend more than $70 billion each year on lottery tickets. That comes out to $300 per adult in the states where lotteries are legal. With Powerball or Mega Millions payouts reaching hundreds of millions of dollars, there is definitely a high incentive to take a chance by buying a ticket. Before you drive to the store to purchase a ticket, consider the odds — and the risks — involved in that decision.

The odds of winning either the Powerball or Mega Millions are roughly 1 in 292.2 million and 1 in 302.6 million, respectively. The National Travel Safety Board (NTSB) reports 1.25 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled in the United States. Based on these odds, a lottery player living a single mile from a store selling lottery tickets is nearly four times more likely to die in a car accident driving to the store than to win the Powerball jackpot. For any drive over a mile, the odds of death multiply accordingly, while the odds of winning remain the same.

There is one surefire way to win with Powerball. The game involves the random drawing of a set of 5 out of 39 numbers. Each lottery ticket allows the player to choose five numbers, as well as select a single number as the Powerball number. Those who match the Powerball number receive a $4 prize. To guarantee you will win that prize, you just have to purchase 39 tickets, choosing all 39 possible numbers in the Powerball selections. That strategy will cost you $78, but at least you will have the satisfaction of winning $4 to help offset the danger you put yourself in by driving to the store.

Read more fun facts about high odds.

Read more fun facts about numbers.

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