As the Powerball jackpot has continued to creep higher and higher — now surpassing $1.5 billion — many people have probably been wondering the same thing: Is it possible to beat the system in order to guarantee yourself a win?
The simple answer is yes.
But once you get into the not-so-simple answer, you start to realize just how complicated that process of guaranteeing a win really is.
How to guarantee a Powerball win
Your odds of hitting the Powerball jackpot are one in 292,000,000. Each ticket is $2. So if you buy 292 million tickets for $584 million — you’d still walk away with a huge profit.
When you hit the jackpot, you have two options for how you get the money. You can either get your winnings in the form of 30 annual payments or you can take a lump sum. Before the jackpot jumped even higher to $1.5B, based on the $1.4 billion jackpot, the lump sum was estimated to be about $868 million. That would leave you with a $284 million profit (after spending that $584 to guarantee the win).
But, there’s more. Hitting the jackpot isn’t the only way to win at Powerball — there are smaller, lower tier prizes as well (people just don’t talk about these as much when there’s a $1.4 billion jackpot on the table). The folks at CNN Money crunched the numbers and found that since playing every possible combination would also guarantee that you win these lower level prizes — that would bump your profit up by an extra $92 million. And on top of that, all of the tickets you purchased in order to guarantee a win would also increase the lump sum value of the jackpot by $200 million — meaning another $200M in profit for you.
So after spending $584 million and winning $1.2 billion, you’d be left with a profit of $576 million.
What about the taxes?
According to CNN Money, you can deduct the value of your losses up to the amount of your winnings — making everything you spent minus $2 tax-deductible. In the midst of all this cash, you may have forgotten that you would have only spent $2 on the one ticket that actually won — so you would be able to bypass any federal taxes owed on the first $584 million of your winnings (since that’s how much you ‘lost’ in gambling in order to guarantee your win).
So why isn’t anyone doing this??
Obviously there is a catch, right? Of course there is. And in fact, there are two big catches.
1. Catch 1: Buying 292 million tickets is pretty much impossible
First of all, you have to buy Powerball tickets in person. So there goes the hopeful theory of getting some super computer to do it for you. Sorry, you have to actually buy each ticket in person — so that’s 292 million transactions.
Plus, you can’t win by purchasing 292 million ‘quick picks.’ If you played 292 million quick picks, you could just end up with a bunch of the same combinations, which defeats the purpose. So since you would have to guarantee your tickets match the 292 million different combinations, you’d have to choose the numbers on each ticket manually.
If you bought one ticket every second for nine years straight, you still wouldn’t cover all of the combinations. Plus, that’s assuming you could purchase a ticket every second (including the transaction etc.) which isn’t possible.
2. Catch 2: You probably wouldn’t be the only winner
Even if you found a super-human way to buy 292 million unique-combination tickets by Wednesday night — you likely wouldn’t be the only jackpot winner.
There were 440 million tickets sold for the last drawing (which obviously had no winners). If the same amount of tickets are sold for Wednesday’s drawing, even by purchasing enough tickets to guarantee yourself a win, you’d still only have a 22% chance of being the only winner, according to Victor Matheson, a professor of economics and accounting who talked to CNN Money.
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And considering the jackpot is now much higher, you can probably assume that even more tickets will be sold this time around, making your chances of having the only winning ticket even lower.
And if those odds aren’t enough to deter you from trying to make the impossible possible in just about 48 hours, there’s more: you’d have a 33% chance of sharing the jackpot with another person, a 25% chance of sharing it with two other people, a 12% chance of sharing it with three people and a 6% chance of sharing your jackpot prize with FOUR other people.
Even having to split the prize with just one other person would make your $584 million investment not worth it — because you’d lose money.
A better bet to make…
If you rather put your money on better odds, try investing in yourself. Here’s how to become a millionaire by investing in yourself, instead of the lottery.