MIDTOWN — Monday’s Powerball jackpot is the largest lottery payout ever — $1.9 billion — and with a potential win that big, ticket purchases are red hot now.
Even though more people are playing the nationwide lottery game, the odds of winning are the same now as they were before the jackpot ballooned. Those odds are, in a word, awful — 1 in 292 million, but they’re no worse than they were when the jackpot was a mere $1 billion a week ago.
The reason for that is mathematical, and it’s one that few lottery players know.
“I have to call my actuary friend,” said Pam Brooks, after buying a Powerball ticket at the 710 Quick Stop Deli in Midtown. “He would know exactly.”
Rong Chen, distinguished professor of statistics at the Rutgers University School of Arts and Sciences, spoke about the odds with PIX11 News. Dr. Chen has spent a quarter century researching and writing about lofty academic topics in statistics, such as forecasting return volatility, and high-dimensional matrix-variate time series, in august, prestigious academic journals.
However, with the jackpot being so large, he’s now being called on to talk about Powerball statistics. Chen said that the reason the odds don’t change is simple.
“Because you are picking numbers,” he explained in an interview. “You’re not playing against other players.”
So even if the number of players increases, he continued, “It doesn’t matter if you are the only one playing or millions of people [are] playing, it’s the same odds your number hits the winning number.”
Anecdotal evidence shows that the number of people playing is rising significantly.
Maheboob Khan sells tickets at 710 Quick Stop Deli. He said that the store usually sells about $2,000 worth of Powerball tickets daily. However, since the jackpot ballooned, Khan said, sales are more like “four thousand, five thousand [dollars daily]. Now it’s more than doubled.”
Professor Chen, the statistician, also pointed out that there is a guaranteed way to win. For all but a very small number of people, it’s prohibitively expensive.
“If you have tons of money,” said Chen, “[say] you have $600 million, you can buy all the number combinations.”
Each ticket costs $2, and there are 292 million number combinations, so to purchase them all would cost $584 million, he said.
However, Chen added, the reason that billionaires like Jeff Bezos, Oprah Winfrey, Elon Musk or others don’t just take it all, also involves simple math.
“There may be some other people who may share the jackpot with you,” he explained.
In other words, he continued, the more people play, the greater the chance that more than one person will win the jackpot. That, in turn, lowers the payout.
It’s part of the reason that a variety of players feel the way that one woman who’d just bought her ticket at 710 Quick Stop Deli said she feels.
“Even if I don’t get the first prize,” said the woman, who declined to give her name, “maybe I’ll get something in between.”
Powerball pays a $2 million prize to players who match all five of its regular numbers but don’t match the sixth, or Powerball number. The game administrators pay $1 million to players who match four of the five numbers and get the Powerball number correct.
The odds of doing either of those are not nearly as challenging as the odds of taking the grand prize. The odds of matching all five of the regular numbers but not matching the Powerball are 1 in 11.69 million, while the odds of matching four of the five regular numbers but not matching the Powerball are 1 in 913,000.