What are the Odds of Winning A Large Jackpot Lottery?

Lotteries are very popular in the United States and several other countries. There are several kinds of lotteries available, with varying rules, chances of winning, prizes, and jackpot amounts. What people get most excited about is the coveted jackpot prize for the one who wins the lottery. This is usually a very large sum of money that can probably change lives for the better.

While we do hear of lottery winners in the media, can we expect to be among those incredibly lucky ones someday? Let’s have a look at the odds of winning the lottery. To put these in perspective, we will also be looking at the odds of other unlikely events. 

What are the Chances of Winning?

A hand scratching an instant lottery

There are different lotteries with different chances of winning. Within the United States, the most popular and largest lotteries are Mega Millions and Powerball. 

  • The chances of winning the Mega Millions jackpot (about $1.1 billion) are one in 302.6 million for one ticket. 
  • The chances of winning the Powerball lottery (around $400 million) are one in 292.2 million for one ticket. 
  • There are also single state lotteries such as the California Super Lotto, where the chances ‘improve’ to one in 42 million.  

Getting Some Perspective

Colourful lottery balls in a machine

If you’re thinking about playing the lottery, some perspective might help in making a decision. Below are some events that actually have far better chances of happening to any one individual than them winning the Mega Millions or Powerball lottery: 

  • An individual has 80 times more chances of being killed by a shark than of winning the Powerball lottery jackpot. The odds here are 1 in 3.7 million, which are still much better than for any popular lottery. 
  • There’s a one in 1,222,000 chance of getting injured or dying by lightning in just one year. This might be one in about a million, but is still around 400 times more likely than winning the Mega Millions jackpot.
  • There’s a one in 57,825 chance of a fatal sting from a wasp, bee, or hornet in a normal lifetime. This is still around 7,000 times more likely than winning a major lottery jackpot. 
  • There’s a one in 35,074 chance of passing away due to a cataclysmic storm in an average lifetime. This might seem unlikely and unusual, but it’s actually around 11,500 times more likely to happen to an individual than winning the Mega Millions lottery.

If you try to guess someone else’s social security number, the odds of guessing right are one in one billion (for one guess). There are a billion possible combinations for social security numbers. While this is MORE unlikely than winning the jackpot in Mega Millions with one ticket, it’s only three times harder.

Becoming canonized–this means a person being made a saint through the Pope–has odds of one in 20 million. As unlikely as this is, it’s more than ten times more likely than winning the Powerball or Mega Millions lottery. It’s even twice more likely than winning the California Super Lotto. The chances of becoming a saint also increase for those who follow a certain path. 

It may seem unlikely that someone dies due to being left-handed. However, it’s more likely to happen than you winning the lottery. Around 1 in 4.4 million people are expected to die due to incorrectly using a product made for right-handed people when they’re left-handed. This adds up to about 2,500 people per year. Again, these are much better odds than winning any of the major lottery jackpots. 

Many regular people wouldn’t even dream that winning an Oscar would ever be in their future. However, the odds of getting this prestigious award are just one in 11,500–this is keeping in mind all the yearly Oscars, including those handed out for makeup, costume design, etc. This is about 4,000 times more likely to happen to an individual rather than winning the jackpot in the lottery. 

Quadruplets are rare in themselves, and identical quadruplets even more so. Still, the chances of this happening are about one in 15 million. In a nutshell, having identical quadruplets of your own is three times more likely than winning the California Super Lotto, and around 20 times more likely than winning the Mega Millions or Powerball jackpots. 

Speaking of multiple births, having conjoined twins is also quite rare. These are twins that are physically attached in some way–they might be joined at the torso, the legs, and even the head. Research by the University of Maryland Medical Center, the odds of a woman giving birth to such twins are around one in 200,000. As rare as this is, it’s still around 1,500 times more likely than a woman or man winning the Mega Millions lottery. 

Even if they haven’t watched ‘Keeping up with the Kardashians’, almost everyone with internet access knows who Kim Kardashian is. Everyone also knows that becoming the President of the United States is highly unlikely. However, if she were to run for this position, her odds will probably be round one in 81. These odds are actually quite good, especially when you compare them to the chances of winning a lottery jackpot (555,555 times more likely). The chances of Mark Zuckerberg or Bill Gates winning the election and becoming the next POTUS are a bit lower than Kim K’s (around one in 275 right now), but still astronomically better than the jackpot odds. 

In some cultures, finding a four-leaved clover is considered to be great luck. However, these plants are rare; the chances of finding one are around one in 10,000. This is still 4,500 times more plausible than winning the lottery. 

Being an astronaut might be the dream of many kids and adults, but there are a lot of requirements to fulfill for this goal. Still, the overall chances of this happening are about one in 12 million. You can increase the odds by studying certain subjects, obtaining certain skills, and working your way up in the correct field. However, one in 12 million is still around 25 times more likely than the one in 302.6 million for the Mega Millions jackpot. 

There are many bizarre ways to die, and getting crushed by a meteor is one of them. It just might happen, though; the odds of that are one in 700,000. This makes death by meteor 64 times more likely than winning the lottery. 

Many people might have the potential to become an Olympic athlete, but it requires a lot of hard work and determination along with natural talent. Competing in the Olympics means that one is at the pinnacle of their chosen sport. With all this considered, the chances of becoming such an athlete and competing in this international event are one in 500,000. This is still around 90 times more plausible for an individual than winning the jackpot in the California Super Lotto. When considering the Mega Millions or Powerball jackpot, becoming an Olympic athlete is around 600 times more likely. 

Below is a summarization of all the unlikely odds above as compared to the odds of winning the Mega Millions or Powerball lotteries. Since we’re talking in big numbers here, the difference in the odds of both lotteries shouldn’t be too significant: 

Event Odds of Event Occurring Odds as Compared to the Odds of Winning the Mega Millions/Powerball Lottery (approximately)
Getting killed by a shark 1 in 3.7 million 81 times more likely
Getting injured/dying by a lightning strike 1 in 1.22 million 400 times more likely
Getting killed by a sting from a bee, wasp, or hornet 1 in 57,825 7,000 times more likely
Getting killed by a cataclysmic storm 1 in 35,074  11,500 times more likely
Guessing a social security number correctly 1 in a billion Three times less likely
Dying due to being left handed when operating a right-handed device 1 in 4.4 million 68 times more likely
Becoming a saint through canonization 1 in 20 million 10 times more likely
Winning an Oscar 1 in 11,500 4,000 more likely
Having identical quadruplet babies 1 in 15 million 20 times more likely
Having conjoined twins 1 in 200,000 1,500 times more likely
Kim Kardashian becoming the next POTUS 1 in 81 555,555 times more likely
Finding a four-leaved clover 1 in 10,000 4,500 times more likely
Becoming an astronaut 1 in 12 million 25 times more likely
Dying by meteor 1 in 700,000 64 times more likely
Becoming an Olympic athlete 1 in 500,000  600 times more likely

How Equal Are the Odds? 

Some people might be under the impression that they might have a better chance of winning if they buy a ticket in a certain area or if they buy it themselves rather than with a computer-generated number. There is no basis to this belief; all the tickets and ticket numbers have an equal chance of winning. 

The Chances Have Gotten Worse Over Time

Flying realistic drawing lottery or billiard balls

Winning the Powerball lottery was always just about impossible, but it’s gotten even more unlikely with the addition of 10 more numbers. The lottery operators did this in 2015. 

Before this, the balls only had numbers 59 and below. By adding numbers 59 to 69 and decreasing the pool from 35 to 26, the operators changed the Powerball format. This new format did improve an individual’s chances of winning any Powerball prize (there are small prizes starting from $4). However, it sent the jackpot odds skyrocketing to the current 1 in 292,201,388.  

Conclusion

At the end of the day, the sad truth is that playing the lottery will never pay in any meaningful way for most people. The odds of actually winning a large jackpot amount are almost zero. This can be disheartening, as most of the excitement of playing the lottery stems from the idea that anyone can win and become a millionaire overnight. It’s only logical that one should know their chances while playing.

References: 

https://www.savethestudent.org/save-money/things-more-likely-than-winning-lottery.html

https://news.syr.edu/blog/2022/07/28/odds-of-winning-latest-mega-millions-prize-math-professor-has-answers/#:~:text=A%3A%20The%20odds%20are%20one,Millions%20jackpot%20with%20one%20ticket

https://www.investopedia.com/managing-wealth/worth-playing-lottery/

https://www.wtsp.com/article/money/winning-lottery-likelihood/67-13d86b43-c493-422e-9b84-0465b543b0df