I just bet $1.3 billion in hopes of winning the now-$1.3 billion Powerball jackpot.
This might sound like the perfect way to greedily secure the largest lottery offerings in the history of Earth (before taxes). However, I fully I expect to watch all of that money disappear and never return, thanks to statistics.
Of course, I don’t actually have $1.3 billion; I just pretended I did on the Los Angeles Times’ amazing new Powerball lottery simulator.
The tool pseudo-randomly generates a set of five white balls and one red Powerball for each $2 investment, and it lets you play as many times as you want.
To take home the $1.3 billion jackpot, your ticket has to have the same five white numbers — order doesn’t matter — and the one red number on the winning draw.
First you pick a set of numbers that you think are the winners. I clicked the “QUICK PICK” button and got 6, 23, 31, 58, 60 for the white balls and 8 for the red Powerball:
Next the LA Times gives you $100 — thanks, ailing newspaper industry! — and you click “Play!”
From there you watch the tool quickly cycle through a series of random Powerball draws, each costing you $2 per imaginary ticket.
I lost my $100 over 54 draws, or about 5 seconds, playing one ticket at a time (arguably the sanest way to play Powerball). Drats!
The extra four tickets came from reinvesting my small winnings in hopes of nailing that $1.3 billion jackpot.
From here you can try gambling with more pretend cash.
Let’s try $1.3 billion
I skipped the $100 and $1,000 buttons and went straight for the “Bet your paycheck” option. Then I entered $1.3 billion, which is the current Powerball jackpot.
I should hit the jackpot within a few minutes, right?
My first $40,000 goes within minutes:
It takes about 8 minutes to lose roughly $125,000:
And 22 minutes to lose $500,000:
Hey, look! There goes my first $1,000,000 after 45 minutes:
An hour after I started the simulator, my losses are nearing $1.5 million, and I don’t expect that to abate anytime soon.
The odds are never in your favour
The reason why this is such a hopeless situation is because of how probability works. With each draw, I have a 1-in-292,201,338 chance to strike the jackpot. Those odds do not increase on subsequent draws. It’s that bad each time.
Buying more tickets to increase the probability of winning doesn’t do much good, either, especially with the meager wages many Americans make. It’s, well, highly improbable that you’d have enough cash to make a statistical difference.
You could buy millions of tickets to have that many more opportunities to match up the numbers, but the odds are still very stacked against you. Probability guarantees nothing.
My $1.3 billion LA Times simulation is still running, and I’m losing about $370.37 every second. This means it will take about 41 days to lose my investment, and I fully expect to.
If this were a real lottery, however, and I put one $2 ticket into every draw, it would actually take 6.25 million years to spend my $1.3 billion on the Powerball. The reason is because there are only two Powerball drawings a week, not one every microsecond (as is the case with the LA Times simulator).
I’ll write a new post if I “win” the jackpot, but I wouldn’t keep your hopes up. I’m certainly not.
But there is a way to guarantee a win
At this point, maths fans have called my ruse.
If you have that much money to throw at something, the one-ticket, one-draw strategy makes no sense because there is a way to guarantee winning a jackpot: Buy enough tickets to cover every possible number combination before a drawing.
There are 11,238,513 possible combinations of five white balls, since order does not matter. Multiply that by the 26 possible red balls, and you get 292,201,338 possible Powerball tickets.
At $2 per ticket, you’d need $584,402,676 to buy every single combination and guarantee a win.
But think this out for a moment. How are you going to print that many tickets in less than four days? And ensure each combination is different? Also, you have to weigh the risk that one or more other people got the winning combination, too — forcing the lottery commission to split up the jackpot.
At the end of the day, buying out the lottery isn’t practical. But buying just one ticket, especially now, does make economic sense.