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A one in 302.5 million chance: US lottery prizes come down to math, long odds

Lottery players face odds of 1 in 303 million of winning the Mega Millions drawing. In comparison, the odds of getting killed by a shark are 1 in 3.7 million in a lifetime, according to the International Shark Attack File.

Tickets sold for Tuesday’s drawing are expected to cover 75 per cent of all possible number combinations, he said.

The Mega Millions jackpot, along with a Powerball lottery prize that stands at $US620 million, has caused lotto fever to sweep across the US over the last few days.

The Mega Millions jackpot, along with a Powerball lottery prize that stands at $US620 million, has caused lotto fever to sweep across the US over the last few days.Credit:AP

Wednesday’s Powerball lottery prize stands at $US620 million, making it the fifth-largest jackpot in US history, after no one got all six numbers in Saturday’s drawing. The lump sum cash payout is estimated at $US354.3 million.

If more than one person wins, the jackpots would be divided proportionately, as happened in 2012 with a Mega Millions jackpot of $US656 million, a lottery official said.

Mega Millions tickets are sold in 44 US states, the District of Columbia and the Virgin Islands. Several states allow online ticket purchases, but they prohibit out-of-state and foreign purchases.

Both lottery jackpots have been increased recently by rule changes that have reduced the chances of winning.

I’ll never win, but you gotta give it a shot. I’d like to change my way of life.

Hank Kattan

The odds of winning Mega Millions were raised a year ago from 1 in 259 million to generate larger prizes.

But there are some quirks and surprises about the math equations that likely will soon vault someone into stratospheric wealth after the jackpots grew for months without a winner.

What are the actual jackpots?

The biggest quirk starts with this fact: The advertised $US1.6 billion Mega Millions prize – the world’s largest ever lottery jackpot – and $US620 million Powerball prize aren’t quite real. That is, those are the amounts you’d be paid if you chose an annuity, doled out over 29 years. Nearly every winner opts for cash, which is the amount of money the lottery folks actually have in the bank ready to pay out to the company that would fund the annuity.

The cash option is still massive, at $US904 million for Mega Millions and $US354.3 million for Powerball. But those numbers aren’t splayed across billboards and shown in countless mini marts across America.

Potential combinations

The dismal odds of winning the Mega Millions jackpot – 1 in 302.5 million – mean there are 302.5 million potential number combinations, or a little less than one combination for each of the 328 million people living in the US. For last Friday’s drawing, about 59 per cent of possible combinations were taken. But by Tuesday night’s drawing, officials estimate that 75 per cent will be sold.

That would mean a 25 per cent chance of no winner. If that happens, it’s likely even more combinations would be covered before the next drawing three days later. Officials don’t have an estimate on how many tickets would be sold for that potential drawing, and they haven’t said how large the estimated prize would be. Could it reach $US2 billion?

A lottery player looks over his Mega Millions lottery tickets he purchased at a news stand in Philadelphia.

A lottery player looks over his Mega Millions lottery tickets he purchased at a news stand in Philadelphia.Credit:AP

The odds of winning Powerball are 1 in 292.2 million.

As grand prize increases, so do winner numbers

The odds of winning don’t change as jackpots get larger, but the chance that more than one winner will share the prize do. When so many people rush to play as a jackpot soars, the chances increase that two or three tickets – of the millions of tickets sold – will match. Of the five largest jackpots awarded in the US, three went to multiple winners. The largest single prize went to a 2017 player from Massachusetts who celebrated a $US758.7 million Powerball payday.

Two jackpots, one winner?

If the odds of winning either Mega Millions or Powerball don’t seem gigantic enough, how about winning them both? Spend $4 on a ticket for each game and it could happen. But the odds aren’t especially favourable, at about 1 in 88 quadrillion (that’s 88,000,000,000,000,000).

Lucky numbers

For Mega Millions, players choose six numbers: five from a range of white balls, numbered 1 to 70, and one number for the Mega Ball, with a range of 1 to 25.

What numbers have come up most? Since 2010, that honour goes to the number 2, with 92 hits, followed by the numbers 20, 11, 31 and 17. The most hit Mega Ball number is 9.

Lottery officials are quick to point out that the number selection is random, so there’s no reason that what hit in the past will be selected again. The game also has changed over the years, so some numbers included weren’t always in the mix.

Lucky states

Not surprisingly, the most Mega Million jackpot winners in the past five years have come from states with the largest populations. New York, with the nation’s fourth-largest population, leads with seven winners. The No.1 population state of California is second in Mega Millions winners with six, while Illinois is third with four winners.

A customer purchases lottery tickets at La Preferida Superdiscount store in Hialeah, Florida.

A customer purchases lottery tickets at La Preferida Superdiscount store in Hialeah, Florida.Credit:AP

Still, there are some quirks, as Georgia has the eight-largest population and three winners and Washington state has two winners but only the 13th largest population. Texas has the nation’s second-largest population, yet players have only bought winning Mega Millions tickets in the state twice in the past five years. And let’s hear it for Rhode Island, the smallest population state to have won a Mega Millions jackpot in the past five years.

America is No.1

For those with an international bent, the current Mega Millions jackpot has surpassed all lottery jackpot records – so it’s not only the largest lottery prize in U.S. history, it’s now the world’s largest.

The annual El Gordo national lottery in Spain advertises a larger total prize pool, but the money is divvied up into many prizes, according to Seth Elkin, a spokesman for the Maryland lottery, which currently takes questions about the Mega Millions drawing.

The top 10 biggest jackpots

Here’s a list of the 10 largest US jackpots that have been won and the states where the winning tickets were sold:

1. $1.586 billion, Powerball, January 13, 2016 (three tickets, from California, Florida, Tennessee)
2. $758.7 million, Powerball, August 23, 2017 (one ticket, from Massachusetts)
3. $656 million, Mega Millions, March 30, 2012 (three tickets, from Kansas, Illinois and Maryland)
4. $648 million, Mega Millions, December 17, 2013 (two tickets, from California and Georgia)
5. $590.5 million, Powerball, May 18, 2013 (one ticket, from Florida)
6. $587.5 million, Powerball, November 28, 2012 (two tickets, from Arizona and Missouri)
7. $564.1 million, Powerball, February 11, 2015 (three tickets, from North Carolina, Puerto Rico and Texas)
8. $559.7 million, Powerball, January 6, 2018 (one ticket, New Hampshire)
9. $543 million, Mega Millions, July 24, 2018 (one ticket, California)
10. $536 million, Mega Millions, July 8, 2016 (one ticket, from Indiana)

AP, Reuters

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