I guess I’m nuts: I bought no tickets for the $640M lottery

No doubt there are three highly ecstatic people in this country: the three people who chose the magic numbers on the record-breaking $640 million Mega Millions lottery.  Let’s hope that they haven’t gone through all of the money within the next few years, as they’re likely to do.  (The US Government, of course, will burn through its 25% withholding cut in less than a half-hour.)

One gentleman quoted in the MSNBC article, who bought five tickets for chances at the giant jackpot, had this to say about the enormous payout:

“When it gets as big as it is now, you’d be nuts not to play … You have to take a chance on Lady Luck.”

Well, no, not really, I don’t have to take a chance.

With rare, highly-inspired exceptions — yes J I’m talking about you — lotteries are a tax on people who don’t comprehend astronomical probabilities.  There are 176 million combinations of numbers for the Mega Millions game.  Only one of those 176 million combinations is the big winner.  Here are some roughly comparable odds:

  • Flipping a coin 27 times in a row, and getting heads every time
  • Rolling twelve dice and coming up with the same number on top
  • Warren Buffett picks one person in the country at random to have lunch with, and it turns out to be you

The size of the jackpot accumulating from weeks without winners doesn’t change the astronomical odds against hitting the right combination of numbers.  The odds of winning are exactly the same with a $15 million jackpot as with a $640 million jackpot: really, really lousy.  What’s more, the winners have to split the jackpot; having this much interest in the lottery increases the likelihood that there will be more than one winner, which there was.

Why waste any money at all on these kinds of almost impossibly long shots?  Why not give Lady Luck the finger and actually do something to create your dreams?

John Wedding

Husband. Father. Web publisher. Musician. John has blogged at Mighty Bargain Hunter since 2005, helping people to recognize life's good deals.

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  1. Matthew says

    The real reason people buy tickets when the jackpot hits as high as it did was like many things people do, people just wanted to be a part of something.

    Everyone is talking about the lotto and it’s basically a one dollar admittance to be part of the party or part of the club. It gave everyone a week to talk about the fun of what ifs and maybe being rich.

    Why do people pay cover vs going to a free bar. Why do people eat out vs cooking their own food. A lot of the time it just comes down to “it’s an experience”

  2. says

    This more than any other lottery created a craze that swept across the country for at least the states and the adjoining states for the mega millions. I heard of some fool or group that invest million for every number combination and they did not win. When I play, I am only willing to lose a $1. I think I played 1-2 dozen times since it was started in California 25+ years ago.

  3. says

    It is amusing how people are much more inclined to play when the jackpot gets excessively large. It’s as if those people wouldn’t be happy winning a million or several million. No they want hundreds of millions. Talk about greed. I can’t say I ever played the lottery. I did have a bit of a thing for scratch and win tickets a while back, but I considered that to be more about the entertainment.

  4. says

    If you lack excitement in your life, the dream of a very small chance to win big maybe your best shot. I suppose all the talk what you would do with the money if you win (instead of doing some work,study or sports) was for many worth the price of the lottery ticket. I played the weekly lottery once for a year or so when I wanted to lighten up the end of the weekend. Happy that I do not need that anymore.

  5. says

    This makes me feel better – I didn’t buy a single ticket either! I felt the $5 I might have spent on tickets would be better put to… well, just about anything else, as I thought my odds of winning just too ridiculous to buy in.

  6. says

    I almost fell into the lotto trap. I had to get gas on Saturday, and I thought, while I was there, that I might as well buy one lottery ticket. I took out my dollar and handed it to the cashier, but she told me it was two dollars now. Too rich for my blood (I only had one dollar in cash on me), so I passed. But I was going to be really upset if whoever won the lottery bought their ticket at that gas station at 1:16 p.m.!

  7. says

    I didn’t bite either. I don’t know what about the lottery makes it that more enticing at $600 million as opposed to $300 million. Are all these people so snobby that it takes an extra $300 million to get them into the game?

  8. says

    No, you are definitely not nuts. The lottery is not for people who can do math. It pains me to see people waste their money. These are GREAT statistics. Thanks for putting this information out there!

    Flipping a coin 27 times in a row, and getting heads every time
    Rolling twelve dice and coming up with the same number on top
    Warren Buffett picks one person in the country at random to have lunch with, and it turns out to be you

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