Win or lose Powerball, there are myths about the game worth busting

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NEW JERSEY -- It seems simple enough -- you pay $2, you get a Powerball ticket, and then somebody wins. Eventually.

However, along with any game of luck comes plenty of superstition, myth and misinformation, as well as some skill, statistics and mathematical facts.

To help sort one from the other, PIX11 News consulted a distinguished mathematics professor, as well as dozens of lottery players, all of whom are convinced they've won the jackpot.

"If you don't play you don't win," said a woman at the Quick Shop convenience store in Union, New Jersey who'd just bought a ticket.

It was a sentiment repeated at stores in all 46 states where Powerball is played, including at the Krauszers Deli on St. Georges Avenue in Rahway, called the luckiest shop in New Jersey by some, because of its high number of winners of non-Powerball lottery games.

"I heard this is one of the best," said Janel Goods, minutes after buying her Powerball tickets at the Krauszers front counter. "Hopefully, I'll be one of the winners."

Hopefully, she will, and hopefully she's not among the many who make assumptions about their chances for winning, which mathematics disproves.

For starters, many people assume that a jackpot smaller than Wednesday's $1.5 billion prize has higher odds of winning. That's simply untrue.

"It's is a very small chance of winning" in any case, said Louis Beaugris, PhD. "One in 292 million," Beaugris reminded. He's the executive director of the Kean University School of Mathematics.

The long odds have been repeated again and again during the current Powerball fever, which has extended from when this latest jackpot started building last November until now.

As Prof. Beaugris pointed out, however, the infinitesimally small chance of winning has stayed constant throughout this Powerball cycle, whether the jackpot was $40 million or $1.5 billion.

Beaugris is familiar with mistaken assumptions, including that the lump sum payout is always better. That's not necessarily true, especially when the jackpot is this big. It's required to be paid out over the course of 30 years, and the payout is the actual dollar amount of $1.5 billion, as opposed to the lump sum of $930 million.

In New York City, the combination of federal, state and city taxes could whittle the lump sum payout by more than half.

Dr. Beaugris, who is himself a bettor of Powerball, busts another myth -- that each player's chance to win the lottery game is miniscule. Actually, they're great for someone willing to part with a decent amount of cash.

"You can always guarantee your chance of winning," said Beaugris, "by playing all 26 combinations" of the Powerball number. Doing so, however, costs $52.00. "You guarantee a win," said Beaugris, who field tested his hypothesis recently. His $52.00 payout resulted in a $4.00 pay day.

What may be wiser, said the professor, was what a few customers at the Krauszers in Rahway were doing. "I buy one ticket, that's it," said one man on line.

Very small purchases of just one or two tickets means a minimal loss, said Prof. Beaugris, and it's worth, he said, the excitement of potentially winning big.

"The only way to guarantee that you won't win," the mathematician said, "is to not play at all. "