Monday, November 5, 2012

Best Way to Win the Lottery

As I drive around the country, I've noticed a lot - I mean A LOT - of billboards, and a significant percentage of them devoted to Powerball. With quite a few jackpots reaching 8 digits, it was only natural that I start wondering if maybe I should start investing in lottery tickets.

When I was younger, I occasionally paid attention to the Illinois Lotto, thought of what might be the best strategy to win it. The odds of a single ticket winning were about 56 million to 1, and the average payout was around $28 million, which is half the odds. Checking out Powerball, I see the odds of winning is about 175 million to one and the average payout is about 90 million; again, half.

Why half? Simple, really.

Because half the income goes to the lottery commission.

Sometimes, the pot exceeds the odds. Frex, the Powerball prize exceeds $175 million, which is the only time when you could buy EVERY ticket and still make a profit. In fact, it's been done.

When buying ALL the tickets, you have to take a few things into account. First, you have to pay about 1/3 of the jackpot in taxes, which means the jackpot must exceed $233 million to make a profit.

Second, you need a strategy for buying 175,000,000 tickets in the space of just a few days. You really can't just walk into a convenience store and buy all those tickets. For one, they don't have that many, and for another, even if they could print out 100 tickets per second, it would take them about two weeks to do it. This means you need a whole ARMY of ticket buyers, and you need to send them to THOUSANDS of stores.

How many such stores are in a given major city? A hundred? A thousand? You'd have to canvas an entire major metropolitan area and the surrounding smaller cities. And you'd have to PAY all those ticket buyers too, and buy their gas. Probably another million or two bucks, but that's pocket change.

Then you've got to fill out all the tickets meticulously before you go to the stores, which could easily cost another million in labor, and you've got to keep the tickets organized so that after the drawing you can find all the winning tickets in under a year.

And finally, you have to hope no one else won, which divides your winnings by the number of winners.

Even if you can gather together $180 million and ten thousand of your best friends for the next month, and no one else wins, it's a LOT of work and you may have to wait a few years for the pot to get high enough to be worth the trouble. How much of a profit is worth the effort? A million? Ten million? A hundred million? The bigger the pot, the longer you have to wait for it to get that high, and the higher the chances someone else will win half (or more) of your prize.

So buying all the tickets is too expensive and to risky for us. What if we devoted $100 to each jackpot, how long would it take? That's about $10,000 a year. It would take over 2800 years to win. So that's out too.

No wonder they call it a poor tax. It seems the best way to win the Lottery is to not play at all.

But there might just be a better way to win a ton of money, at better odds, and less investment. Tune in next week and I'll tell you all about it.


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