Giant Powerball Jackpot? No Surprise!

As everyone in America seems to know, the Powerball jackpot has reached new heights, with an estimated annuity prize of $1.5 billion for the drawing on Wednesday, January 13, 2016. A monster jackpot is exactly what Powerball hoped for when it changed its game structure last fall.

Prior to October 2015, Powerball participants selected five unique numbers between 1 and 59, and a separate number — the Powerball — between 1 and 35. As I explained in an earlier article, this led to over 175,000,000 possible six-number combinations. The new Powerball playing structure involves picking five unique numbers between 1 and 69, while choosing for the Powerball a number between 1 and 26. The arithmetic of that change is that there are now 292,201,338 possible combinations, resulting in a 1/292,201,338 chance of winning. There are 67 percent more possible combinations, making the Powerball that much less likely to win. That reduced likelihood was calculated to create the current situation — many consecutive drawings with no winner, leading eventually to a ticket-buying frenzy and an enormous jackpot.

Stories about the massive jackpot include new ways of imagining how small your chances of winning the lottery really are. For example, in this article, we are told that our chances of winning the Powerball jackpot are less than, for example, the chances of dating a supermodel or being elected president of the United States.

Those kinds of illustrations are not particularly helpful, for three reasons:

  1. The chances are not the same for everyone. No way does every human being have the same chance (1 in 80,000, says someone) of dating a supermodel. As regards election to the presidency, it is hard to argue at this point in history that women have the same —> Read More