As the Powerball jackpot gets larger, the allure of gambling on it becomes stronger. Since a recent tweak to the Powerball drawing decreased the odds of winning the grand prize to 1 in 292 million, that grand prize has gotten bigger and bigger. And the longer the drawings go without a jackpot winner, the more the winnings swell — meaning players are willing to gamble more on the chance of walking home with an obnoxious amount of money.
People are buying more tickets hoping to win $1.5 billion
In Baltimore, for instance, retailers have stories of customers walking out with gobs of tickets in the hopes they win.
‘People are buying five tickets, 10 tickets — one guy bought like 500 tickets,’ the owner of a BP gas station there told the Baltimore Sun. ‘People used to buy just one or two.’
But how much do those extra tickets really increase your chances of winning?
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.
In the case of the person who bought 500 tickets from the BP? Their chances of taking home the $1.5 billion are 0.000171114% — a number that is still so unbelievably small that shelling out more money for more tickets doesn’t make much sense from a statistical standpoint — or a financial one.
Playing with one ticket is fun, though, granted, it’s far more of a long shot than 1 in a million.
But so is playing with a bunch of tickets.
For more on the mathematics of the Powerball, check out the work of ‘Durango Bill,’ a computer science graduate of Brown University.
If you’d rather take your chances on something with better odds, here’s how to do that.