The nation is captivated by the current record-high Powerball lottery, which has now gone nearly two full months without a winner and sits at a cool $1.5 billion jackpot. The lottery is all the rage in the media, and an air of anticipation and hopefulness is hanging over everyone holding a little yellow ticket. If you've already laid down the $2 for a ticket, you might be feeling excited for Wednesday night, when the drawing will take place at a Florida studio. But what are your chances of actually winning the Powerball? Exactly one in 292,201,338.
Here's where that figure comes from. The five white balls come out of the same bowl, filled with balls numbered one through 69. So that's (69 x 68 x 67 x 66 x 65) ÷ (5 x 4 x 3 x 2 x 1) to determine the chance of winning. Without the Powerball, your chances of choosing all five white ball numbers and winning $1 million is only about one in 11 million. But the little red Powerball, which comes from a separate bowl filled with balls numbered 1 through 26, significantly changes the odds of winning, and makes the big jackpot 26 times harder to win. That's where the one in 292 million statistic comes from.
Let's be real: Even your odds of winning the $1 million prize still aren't that good. Obviously, one in 11 million isn't promising, and 292 million to one is a pipe dream. You shouldn't harbor even a little hope of winning, but it can still be fun to play along and think about your odds. And there's even a little sliver of a silver lining — your odds of winning aren't determined by the number of people playing. The odds stay consistent no matter how many tickets are bought, because the odds are determined by the lottery numbers themselves. In fact, the jackpot was raised earlier this week because of all the revenue generated from ticket sales, so you want to get as many people to buy tickets as possible, in case you're the chosen one who grabs the winning stub. More people playing does slightly increase the chance that you'll have to share your winnings with another lucky duck, but sharing is caring, right?
A more visual representation of your odds is displayed in this Powerball simulation by The Los Angeles Times. It generously gives you $100 to start out in your search for jackpot gold, which quickly runs out, then gives you the option to continue simulating your odds. Try plugging in $584,402,676 — that's how much it would cost to buy every single combination of numbers possible and ensure your victory. It's another depressing way to conceptualize how unlikely it is that you'll win.
Yet hope reigns eternal, and people all across the country are going into gas stations and bodegas in the hope that they might get the golden ticket. Or they're motivated by intense FOMO. Despite the minuscule, beyond-unlikely odds of winning, everybody's got a dream.