When the clock strikes 11 p.m. Wednesday night, chances are the Powerball lottery tickets you’ve been clutching all week won’t be worth more than their weight in paper. You’ll throw them away, you’ll leave them on your coffee table in disgust, or you’ll simply forget they exist and find them under your stacks of bills three weeks from now.
Because, in reality, you have a 1 in 292.2 million chance of selecting all five white balls and the red Powerball in the exact order. For all the numbers you could choose on your ticket (or have randomly selected by the computer), there are more than 292 million options. And the reason the jackpot is so high this time is because there have been 19 straight drawings over the course of two months without a grand prize winner.
With some of the worst odds around, who would make that Powerball bet? For $2 and a chance at $1.5 billion, the largest lottery payout in history, it seems like everyone would – from your mother who wants to move to a beach, your best friend who wants a new Tesla, and your office pool who’s decided to quit in unison after you all strike it rich.
The numerical odds alone should tell you that if you plunk down $2 for a ticket before the 10:59 p.m. drawing tonight, you’re simply in it to be a part of the largest lottery drawing in history – at least so far. But somebody’s got to win, right? If you decide to pony up your pocket change for a chance at the staggering amount of cash on the table, here’s what those odds look like in other terms.
Your Powerball odds
You are much more likely to be struck by lightning (odds are approximately 1 in 1 million each year), or to be bitten by a shark (about 1 in 11.5 million). If you wrote every U.S. resident’s name on a slip of paper and picked one at random from a giant bowl, you have about the same odds of picking our your own name as you do of winning the $1.5 billion prize.
At peak selling times last Saturday night before the most recent unsuccessful drawing, Texans were buying roughly 600,000 Powerball tickets every minute. That’s just sales from one of the 44 states that participates, not to mention players from Washington D.C., Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
According to The New York Times, an amateur golfer has a 1 in 12,500 chance of getting a hole in one. They’re certainly not great, but those chances are 23,376 better than that same golfer winning the Powerball with the ticket he bought on the way home from the links.
Of course, you could sweeten those odds by purchasing each of the 292.2 million combination, guaranteeing yourself a win. But that would cost you $584.4 million. You’d give a good deal of your winnings back to Uncle Sam for the government’s take, and there’s always a chance that another lucky person also chose the winning ticket numbers and you’d be forced to split the money. In other words, it’s a bad investment plan.
Of course, even if you do win (truly an appropriate time for the phrase “against all odds”), your location can play a vital role in how much money you actually get to keep. No matter where you live, you’ll face a 25% federal withholding tax on your winnings, regardless of whether you take the lump sum payout of $930 million or have the patience for the annuity over the next three decades.
Some states, like California, Pennsylvania, and Delaware don’t impose a state tax on lottery winnings. But if you live in New York, you’ll likely face the largest tax burden, MarketWatch reports, especially if you live in New York City or Yonkers.
Still, the allure of becoming an instant (almost) billionaire is tempting. And Powerball doesn’t share winner’s stories for nothing. You, too, could be like the previous Powerball jackpot winners, taking home a fat check. You’d also top the ranks of the largest lottery winners in the United States, more than doubling most of the payouts in the top 10.
Despite the odds, there have been an average of 14 Powerball winners each year for the past five years. Who’s to say that ticket in your hand won’t be the lucky one to kick of 2016? And if you and the rest of America continues its luckless streak for this drawing, there’s another chance to play “America’s Game” on Saturday.