NEW YORK – There’s no shaking it. Your chances of winning the lottery are extremely slim — even as more and more eye top prizes soaring to jaw-dropping heights.
Ahead of Wednesday night's drawing, the estimated jackpot for Powerball reached $1 billion — marking the seventh largest prize across U.S. lottery history. And Mega Millions' jackpot grew to an estimated $720 million after there was no winner Tuesday.
But don't plan on entering a new tax bracket anytime soon. The odds of winning a Powerball jackpot — no matter the size — stand near 1 in 292.2 million. Chances of taking home Mega Millions' top prize are even lower, at about 1 in 302.6 million.
Because of the almost impossible chance of winning big, experts stress that you shouldn't spend all your money on lottery tickets. If you choose to play, it's important to be mindful of what you can afford — and maybe consider other places to put your money, even if it's just a few dollars at a time.
Lottery tickets are “definitely not good investments,” Matthew Kovach, an assistant professor in Virginia Tech's economics department told The Associated Press. “They’re not even investments ... there’s an expectation you will always lose money.”
Here are some things to know about the odds of winning the lottery.
WINNING THE LOTTERY IS NEARLY IMPOSSIBLE. WHAT'S MORE LIKELY?
There's a long list of rare events that are more likely than winning the Powerball or Mega Millions jackpot.
“Imagine you have scrabble tiles that spell out ‘Powerball.’ Mix them up and then select them in a random order," Kovach explained. “The chance of correctly spelling ‘Powerball’ is about 1 out of 180,000, which is very unlikely. Still, that is over 1,600 times more likely than winning the Powerball lottery.”
Another common comparison is getting struck by lighting. Even if you bought a lottery ticket for every drawing over 80 years — two times a week for Mega Millions and three times a week for Powerball — you would still be far less likely to win than to be struck by lighting once in your lifetime, Syracuse University mathematics professor Steven Diaz added.
Of course, both Mega Millions and Powerball offer a handful of tiers below the top jackpots — with the lowest prizes starting at $2 and $4, respectfully. For both games, the odds of winning any prize stand at about 1 in 24.
HAS WINNING THE LOTTERY BECOME HARDER?
Yes. Winning the lottery has become harder in recent years, causing jackpots to grow bigger and bigger — and that's by design.
Such big jackpots comes down to math and more difficult odds. In 2015, the Powerball lottery lengthened the odds of winning from 1 in 175.2 million to 1 in 292.2 million. Mega Millions followed two years later, lengthening the odds of winning the top prize from 1 in 258.9 million to 1 in 302.6 million. The largest lottery jackpots in the U.S. have come since those changes were made.
HOW MUCH DO JACKPOT WINNERS REALLY TAKE HOME?
When someone wins a lottery jackpot in games like Powerball or Mega Millions they have two options: an annuity that is distributed over 29 years or a (significantly smaller) cash payout.
The estimated $1 billion jackpot that we see for Powerball's Wednesday drawing, for example, is the annuity option — and the cash value for this prize is nearly half that, standing at $516.8 million. Most jackpot winners opt for the cash.
Federal and state taxes will also lower the money you take home, with deductions depending on where you live.
IS BUYING A LOTTERY TICKET A GOOD INVESTMENT?
Because winning is so rare, experts maintain that lottery tickets are horrible investments — but note that every person's reason for playing the lottery is different.
Some people might buy a $2 lottery ticket as a form of entertainment and find satisfaction in “the excitement of thinking you might win," Diaz says. Meanwhile, others may enter the lottery out of feelings of desperation or financial struggle — with experts pointing to consequences that have disproportionately impacted low-income communities.
The lottery has historically acted as a regressive tax on the poor, meaning the people that can least afford to lose their money buy the most tickets, Lia Nower, a professor and the director of the Center for Gambling Studies at Rutgers University, previously told The AP.
She said her “concern with lottery is really more people who are buying it every day or two or three times a week” as opposed to those who purchase one ticket as the jackpot nears $1 billion.
A $2 ticket may not seem like much — but it can add up for those who are regularly buying lottery tickets over time. Alternative spending options could include opening an investment account that allows you to invest in small amounts or buying partial stock, Kovach says.
“In reality, it’s probably best to diversify by something like an index fund — but if you’re just starting out, I would... (suggest putting it) in the stock market or something like that," he said. "You will actually probably see a return over time.”