A point of CLARIFICATION!

Several months back, I wrote a piece concerning the Powerball and the likelihood of winning the JACKPOT. I stated that people have a much better chance of being struck by lightning.

I am still receiving responses to that one by people who insist that I’m daft (not the word they typically use). Several of them have informed me that they’ve won THOUSANDS over the years using a system that either they had developed themselves or one that they were given by someone else.

Click here to see the chances of winning money with a Powerball ticket. Please note that the chances of winning any amount of money improve the farther you move down from the jackpot. At the bottom of the list of prizes, it states clearly that the overall odds of winning ANY prize are 1 in 31.85!

By the way, Powerball administrators treat the terms CHANCES of winning and the ODDS of winning as synonymous. This is technically incorrect. The odds of winning are always stated as a ratio of the chances of something NOT happening to the chances of something happening.

Therefore, if the chances of winning above are 1 in 31.85, the odds of winning should be stated as 30.85 to 1 (30.85:1). THERE! I feel much better now, so let’s get back to my clarification.

So, YES, if people play the Powerball weekly and buy lots of tickets, it’s conceivable that some of them could win “thousands” of dollars. But most of them won’t win anything, and those who do win can chalk it up to pure luck; there is NO system!

Go back to the Powerball link above. The chances of winning the JACKPOT with a single $2 ticket are 1 in 175,223,510 (odds are 175,223,509 to 1). Conversely, the chances of being struck by lightning in any given year are 1 in 800,000 translated to odds of 799,999 to 1).

And if we extrapolate these chances of a lightning strike over a lifetime of 80-years, the chances become 1 in 10,000 (odds of 9,999 to 1).

Doing the same extrapolation for the chances of winning the Powerball jackpot over the same lifetime, the chances become 1 in 2,190,294—or in terms of ODDS: 2,190,293 to 1.

Now, the actual calculations for the chances of being struck by lightning are objective. However, ARRIVING at those inputs to be used in the arithmetic involved is subjective to say the least.

We can get a reliable number of lightning strikes on this planet using sophisticated scientific recording equipment. But arriving at the number of people struck is much more subjective because it relies on the accuracy of human reporting.

No matter how accurate is the number of lightning strikes recorded by scientific equipment, the ultimate odds of being struck are only as accurate as the veracity of the human reports of people being struck.

When inferring odds to matters of this nature, it’s always a smart move to look at the margin for error. So when we look at the chances of being struck by lightning, we can say they’re “fairly” accurate considering a realistic margin for error.

But this isn’t true when calculating the chances of winning a Powerball prize, the JACKPOT or otherwise. That calculation is absolute; there is no margin for error needed because there is NO error.

I don’t have the space nor the inclination to conduct a class on inferential statistics here. But to win the jackpot with a single $2 ticket requires the ticket-holder to correctly pick the 5-white ball digits AND the red Powerball digit.

And since the order of the white ball digits isn’t a factor, it becomes a simple COMBINATION problem that any $10 scientific calculator with a nCr function key can handle with ease.

Five white ball digits are drawn from a pool of 59 digits numbered from 1 through 59. The red Powerball digit is drawn from a pool of 35 digits numbered from 1 through 35.

So the question is how many 5-white ball-number combinations can be drawn from a pool of 59 numbers. Just punch in 59; tap the nCr function key; hit the 5-key; then hit the equal (=) key.

The answer is 5,006,386, and since the winning ticket must have ALL FIVE of them, the probability is SMALL—divide 5,006,386 into 1 to arrive at 1.997448858 times 10-7. How small is this? Just move the decimal point 7 places to the LEFT.

The red Powerball is drawn from a pool of 35 digits (1 through 35). This probability (divide 35 into 1) is much higher: 0.028571429. But since a winning ticket must have BOTH the winning combination of white balls AND the winning red Powerball, we have to MULTIPLY the two probabilities!

The answer is 5.7069966738 times 10-9. Talk about SMALL; just move the decimal point NINE places to the LEFT. Now just divide this probability into 1 to arrive at a 1 chance in 175,223,510 of winning the Powerball JACKPOT.

There is nothing subjective about this; it’s pure math! And what’s even more pertinent is that EVERY $2 ticket sold has the same 1 in 175,223,510 chance of winning. Nor does buying TWO tickets improve the chances of winning to 1 in 87,611,755 as FIVE irate commenters informed me.

All it does is give two-ticket holders 2 chances in 175,223,510 of winning the jackpot. Buy 3-tickets and the chances become 3 in 175,223,510. The more tickets one buys the higher the chances in 175,223,510 become!

But the point is that EVERY $2 ticket has the same chance of winning the jackpot: 1 in 175,223,510.

So don’t use lottery winnings—Powerball or otherwise—as part of retirement planning. And don’t buy books written by people claiming to have a “winning” strategy, They’re winning strategy is the money they earn from the suckers who buy their books.

The current Powerball jackpot is $165-MILLION. Buy yourself a ticket—I like a larger jackpot before I’ll buy one—or pitch in a $2-spot (or maybe even a $4-spot) together with a group of friends or coworkers to buy some chances in BULK.

You could win; although you probably won’t. The ODDS are astronomically stacked against you. But this matters not for those who heed the casino prime directive: “The LESS you bet when you gamble, the MORE you LOSE when you win!”

GOOD LUCK.

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