September 18, 2013

At $400 million, Powerball is hefty, and someone has to win, right?

The Associated Press

DES MOINES, Iowa — The latest Powerball jackpot is estimated at $400 million, and it's considered the nation's fifth-largest ever. Here are some things to keep in mind ahead of Wednesday night's drawing.

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A Powerball lottery ticket is purchased at the Fuel City store in Dallas on Wednesday, when Powerball's estimated $400 million jackpot will be the nation's fifth-largest ever.

The Associated Press

1. THE ODDS

A person's odds of winning the jackpot are 1 in 175 million, which is how many combinations are possible with the game's five white balls and one red ball. Your odds of picking the winning numbers remain the same regardless of how many people play or how big the jackpot gets. And with so many number combinations, your odds pretty much remain the same whether you buy 1 ticket or 10 tickets. However, a bigger jackpot attracts more players, meaning there's a higher chance there will be more than one winning ticket.

2. BIG JACKPOTS

A major revamp in January 2012 increased the cost of a Powerball ticket from $1 to $2. It also led to larger jackpots in smaller amounts of time. Of the top 10 Powerball jackpots of all time, nearly half have been recorded since the game change. There have been 11 drawings since August 10 without a winner, which has allowed Wednesday's jackpot to grow.

3. CONSOLATION PRIZE

Since the revamp, a secondary $1 million prize has made for some happy losers. More than 730 people have won $1 million, and more than 120 people have won $2 million through the Power Play option.

4. SOMEONE IS GOING TO WIN

A six-number combination will always be chosen, so even though the odds of your combination winning are astronomically low, the chances are high that someone, somewhere, will win. That's what makes people think they could win a jackpot when they probably won't, said Ronald Wasserstein, executive director of the American Statistical Association.

5. BUT IT (LIKELY) WON'T BE YOU

It's math: Don't plan on winning. Wasserstein said it's hard for people to grasp how small their chances actually are, since no one can really see 175 million of anything. Wasserstein explained that it if you lined up 175 dollar bills, the line would twice stretch along the edges of the continental United States. Or cover 380 football fields. Yet only one of those bills would have the winning numbers.

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