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?