While this blog has nothing to do with bankruptcy or even law in general, I thought it would be both fun and timely to explain how and why the Powerball is so difficult to win. Especially given that the Powerball payout is at an all-time high of $1.5 Billion. Said another way, $1.5 Billion is $15,000 Million. This means that if you won today’s jackpot, you could spend $1 Million per day, every day for more than 41 years. Interestingly, if today’s Powerball is won by a single individual, that person would receive approximately $930 Million, effectively making that person a Billionaire overnight and one of the top 500 richest people in the world. So, just what are your odds of winning today’s $1.5 Billion Powerball and how are those odds calculated?
First, your odds are 292,201,338 to 1 that you will pick all five numbers and the correct Powerball number. But how does 292,201,338 to 1 stack up against other seemingly remote events occurring? Well, ironically, you are 292 times more likely to become a billionaire the old-fashioned way (you know, like creating Facebook) than winning the Powerball. You are 584 times more likely to be struck by lightning. And you are 5,844,027 times more likely to live to be 100 years old. Sadly, it seems that the odds winning the Powerball are truly stacked against you. But what makes the odds so long? I mean the concept seems so simple; all you have to do is pick six numbers. Well, the answer lies in how those six numbers are picked and more specifically in the Powerball number itself.
To win the Powerball, you must pick five numbers from a pool of 69 numbers and then match the Powerball from a pool of 26 numbers. The math gets a little confusing unless you are familiar with using factorials. And, in essence, the Powerball is simply using the power of factorials to make a seemingly easy concept (just pick 6 numbers) a virtually impossible task. As I said earlier, there are two distinct parts of the Powerball; the first 5 numbers and then the Powerball. Thus, both parts must be considered when calculating the odds. Ok, so here’s what the math looks like:
I know this seems overwhelming, but it’s actually more simple than it looks. Simply put, in the first part you pick 5 numbers from a pool of 69. Thus, the factorial for the first part is 69*68*67*66*65 (because you have 69 choices for 5 numbers. This equals 1,348,621,560. But because each number 1 through 69 can only be used once, you actually increase your odds of winning by a factor of 5 or 120 (5*4*3*2*1 = 120). So you then divide 120 into 1,348,621,560 to get 11,238,513. These are your odds of picking the first five numbers of the Powerball. Said another way, there are 11,238,513 possible number combinations giving 5 choices between 1 and 69. For the second part of the Powerball, you have to pick one number from 26 possible numbers. Thus, you simply multiply your odds from the first part by 26 to get 292,201,338.
Whether you play the lottery or not, I think it is fascinating to understand the reason the odds are what they are. And while your odds of winning the Powerball are only 0.00000034223%, your odds of winning if you don’t buy a ticket are exactly zero. And one last thought. If you do play the lottery, buy two tickets. Buying two tickets increases your chances of winning by the maximum amount possible. Buying two tickets means that you now have a 146,100,669 to 1 chance of winning. You will still not win, but you have doubled your chances for just $2.00.
Don Lawson is the Office Manager of the Bond & Botes Law Offices location in Knoxville, Tennessee. He holds degrees in both Accounting and Finance that he’s put to use analyzing complex business bankruptcy cases for the firm. Read his full bio here.