By Joe Golling

If you gamble on faith — not on odds — you might want to stop reading this now. Because the chances of winning just about any big stakes lottery game — like Mega Millions  — is just north of impossible. Let’s take Powerball, for instance. Odds of winning the jackpot: about 1 in 175 million. By comparison, your odds of getting hit by lightening — a presumably less favorable outcome — are significantly higher. So, be sure to take shelter during thunderstorms, and, if you play the lottery: you might not want to quit your day job just yet. But hey, you never know, right? People win all the time. In this animation and accompanying infographic, animator Joe Golling explains how to calculate the mathematical possibilities of buying the winning ticket.


  • iwontwin

    im glad someone in san jose didn’t listen to you lol

  • richardchaven

    With tax and the discount for cash, expect to walk away with about a third of the jackpot. So it is not an even bet until the jackpot is (175mm x 3 x $2) $1.05 billion.

    An even bet means that it pays to buy every possible combination (as long as no one else wins too): it would cost as much as the take-home prize.

    • JW

      Being realistic as to believing advertised win (WA State
      win); numbers approximant …

      $100,000,000 Advertised win
      $ 60,000,000 Real win (cash number)
      $ 24,000,000 40% Federal tax
      $ 36,000,000 Balance

      BREAK DOWN (Actual win plus 2-loans)

      $ 14,400,000 14.4% Actual win
      $ 7,200,000 WA State loan until you die, State collects it back
      $ 14,400,000 Federal loan until you die, Feds collects it back

      Yes I still buy tickets at times J

  • JW

    Not one with a math background I ask the following question; what
    are the odds of winning both the Mega Millions and PowerBall back to back? A
    question that arose out of my statement to a friend’s question that it had to be the billions or trillions to
    one, to which he said no way.

    This formula works well for each separately using MS-Excell:

    Powerball-175,223510/1 odds using (combin(59,5)*35) as the formula

    Mega Millions-258,890,850/1 odds using (combin(75,5)*15) as the


Matthew Green

Matthew Green runs KQED’s News Education Project, an online resource for educators and the general public to help explain the news. The project lives at

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