The Odds Thing about Lotteries

For the two or three of you who haven’t yet heard, the Mega Millions jackpot for Friday, March 30, 2012 is estimated to be $540 $640 million dollars. While the chance of you winning the jackpot is extremely small – 1-in-175,711,536, if you only buy one ticket -  imagine being able to waste throw away spend money on a level not seen since Solyndra. Why, it’s potentially mind-boggling!

Curious to see just how small the odds of winning the jackpot are, I visited the website “Book of Odds” ( to find out the odds of other, far more mundane events happening during the course of one’s lifetime. Unfortunately, their website was down… I wonder what the odds are of that happening?

Undaunted, a quick look through the interwebs uncovered some data (which may only have a 50/50 chance of being accurate):

Event Odds of Happening
Cancer anywhere in your body during your lifetime 1-in-2 (males) or 1-in-3 (females)
Shot by a gun (not self-inflicted) 1-in-325
PGA Tour player hitting a hole-in-one 1-in-3,700
Death in an automobile accident 1-in-5,000
Dog attack 1-in-147,717
Killed by an asteroid striking the earth Between 1-in-200,000 and 1-in-500,000
Commercial airline crash resulting in your death 1-in-11,000,000

Of course, these are the average odds based on everyone: If you’re never near dogs, fly commercially, or golf, your actual odds will be much lower.

You’ve probably noticed that, except for the hole-in-one and the free car it usually awards, all the examples represent very unfortunate events. Sure, winning is nice, but as Murphy said “Every silver lining has a cloud”. Consider the benefits of becoming an instant member of the “1% Club“: 33% of lottery winners (in the USA, I presume) go broke within five years of winning, increasing to 64% within 15 years. Not only are winners four times more likely to get divorced compared to the national average, but they run the risk of being swindled, robbed, murdered, or even committing suicide.

And, none of that should be surprising: Of the 46 United States jurisdictions running official lotteries (43 states, plus Washington D.C., Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands), only the State of Delaware allows lottery winners to remain completely anonymous. Otherwise, expect your name, city of residence, prize, and possibly a press conference where you’re the star, to be broadcast to the public. As Edward Ugel said in his book “Money for Nothing: One Man’s Journey Through the Dark Side of Lottery Millions”, “Imagine how your life would change if I suddenly put $50 million in your bank account and printed an ad in the paper about it.”1

Is all of this going to stop me from purchasing at least one ticket before Friday’s drawing? Absolutely not. After all, while money can’t buy love, happiness, or a Senate seat, it can certainly take the some of the sting out of not having them (well, maybe not the Senate seat… then again, a Senate seat might be handy). Besides, I have a failsafe system for playing: I simply use the numbers from the back of the fortune in my fortune cookie: In all my years of playing I’ve never failed to lose with this system (oh, and the fortune itself has never failed in its inaccuracy).

Should I win, I’ll try not to get too excited (chance of a heart attack’s about 1-in-5), and then plan my future life of relative obscurity carefully. Most states give winners at least six months to claim their prize: Plenty of time to consider establishing a blind trust, whether to take a lump sum or an annuity, creating a holding company for your assets, paying the government it’s “due” (let’s see… 30% Federal tax plus approx. 5.8% State tax plus any local taxes… and, that’s after the states have taken about 30% right off the top before paying out any prizes!), changing your name, and moving to your own private island.

Thanks for reading!

1Source: “Lotto Death Curse”, Anneli Rufus of The Daily Beast, Feb 19, 2010 3:57 PM EST

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