This past weekend my brother-in-law Steve won $100,000 in the Powerball Lottery. Not big money–my sister says it’s not enough to change their lives at all–but it’s better than a kick in the pants.
Now it just so happens that on that same weekend, I also bought tickets in the Powerball Lottery. I happened to be in South Carolina, which sponsors lottery games. North Carolina does not, although I understand the State Legislature is working on changing that.
I’m not a big fan of lotteries, but occasionally I will indulge in what I like to call my three dollar daydream. For the afternoon before the drawing, I know I have just as much chance of winning as anyone else does, and I can happily imagine all the things I’ll do with the money.
I always plan on giving a hefty chunk of it to charity, and to his credit, my brother-in-law says he'll do that too.
Steve bought ten tickets, so his odds of winning the $100,000 prize were ten out of 2,939,677. That’s .0000034%. Or to put it the other way round, it’s a 99.9999966% probability that he paid ten dollars for a worthless piece of paper.
Steve’s odds of winning the Powerball Grand Prize Jackpot were astronomical–ten out of 120,526,770. That was .000000008%.
So a person buying ten lottery tickets in the Powerball has a 99.999999992% chance of getting nothing (or sweet FA as my husband Nigel would put it).
It’s been said the lottery is a tax on stupid people. Or people who can’t do math. You don’t need a PhD in math to know that 99.999999992% is damn near 100% and that your chances of winning are about as good if you don’t buy a ticket.
But knowing that the odds are against them doesn’t stop people from buying tickets. I know my brother-in-law’s habit of spending five or ten dollars on the Powerball every other week is harmless and for him, it paid off. However, I’ve always believed lotteries are a sneaky way for the state to bring in money by promising people that they can win a hundred million dollars or more. Low income people are more inclined to spend money on lottery tickets and these are the people who can least afford it.
Anyway, now that I’ve gone over the odds of lotteries, I looked up the odds on other events.
The National Safety Council says that for a person born in 2002, the odds of dying from contact with poisonous snakes and lizards are 1 in 1,241,661. The odds of dying in a car accident or 1 in 228.
According to Gregory Baer, who wrote the book Life: The Odds And How To Improve Them, the odds of becoming president are 10 million to 1. The odds of writing a New York Times best seller are 220 to 1. (I find it hard to believe that I’m more likely to write a best seller than to die in a car accident) The odds of being hit by lightning are 567,000 to 1. The odds of getting away with murder are 2 to 1 against. The odds that you will be murdered are 18,000 to 1.
He also says that your odds of marrying a super model are 1 in 88,000. I’d say the odds improve significantly in your favor if you happen to be Rod Stewart.
I will leave you with the worst set of odds I found. If you are in your mid to late sixties and have smoked two packs a day since you were a teen-ager, your odds of developing lung cancer are one in seven. That’s 15%. But if you do get the disease, your chances of dying within five years are 85%.
Best bet--if you want to play the odds, skip the lottery, drive carefully and quit smoking. And forget about marrying a super model.