First, let me point out that your chance of winning the big prize in Powerball or any other multi-state lottery game is really, REALLY slim. The odds for Powerball are 1 in 175.2 million!
However, the flip side is that someone will eventually win the jackpot that continues to increase until won. And that someone bought a ticket. So if you are going to throw some money into the game here’s how to RELATIVELY increase your chance of winning big:
There are two elements that determine whether you win big:
1. The odds of picking the correct set of numbers – Assuming you believe that the procedure for drawing the winning numbers is truly random (which I do) you cannot change the odds of picking the 7 correct numbers. That 1 in 175.2 million chance is based on the mathematical calculation of choosing the correct 6 of 59 plus 1 of 39 numbers (see this discussion of calculating the odds if you want to know the math. For other games’ odds see here for multi-state games).
“Wait!” you say, “The odds are better if I buy more tickets with different numbers!” Yes, that is true. But to have even a one percent chance of winning you would need to buy 1,752.000 different tickets! So it doesn’t matter what numbers you pick or how many sets – it really is the luck of the draw whether you win.
Though that probability may be depressing, still – SOMEone or SEVERAL ones will eventually win. But while you would really like to win $400 million, I’ll bet you would not say no to winning $40 million, right? This is the second element, which you CAN control:
2. The timing of your bet – Placing a bet on the first, second or third drawing AFTER a big jackpot has been won (or basically any time the jackpot is no larger than $100 million) will greatly increase your chance of being the ONLY jackpot winner if you have the correct numbers.
Looking at a table of how many tickets were sold for each drawing, you can see that frequently there are orders of magnitude more bets when the jackpot gets big, and then a drop-off to a pretty stable amount of 14 to 18 million tickets when the jackpot is below $100 million:
(Here’s a whole bunch of math confirming this timing tip if you are interested)
So the bottom line is that while you cannot realistically improve your odds of picking the winning numbers, you CAN improve your odds of being the only person to win up to about $100 million if your numbers come up.
And a bonus tip: if you DO win the jackpot, DO NOT take the one-time lump sum payment – the option to pay it out over 10 or 20 years is basically an annuity bought for you by the lottery giving you a guaranteed interest rate you would be hard-pressed to match in this economy.