According to the National Transportation Safety Board, your odds of dying in a commercial airline crash are roughly 1 in 29.4 million. In other words, it’s not too likely. This is obviously great news for travelers. On the down side, your odds of falling out of the sky in a jumbo airliner are still 100 times greater than hitting the Powerball number and getting filthy rich by winning the lottery.
Investopedia reports, for instance, that in the month of November 2021, your odds of drawing the 6-digit national Powerball winner were 1 in 292.2 million. Other things you are more likely to do than win the lottery include getting struck by lightning, meeting a person who could pass as your doppelgänger, or giving birth to quadruplets (presuming you have the biological capability of getting pregnant).
So yeah, the chances of striking it rich with the purchase of a lottery ticket are quite low indeed. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Perhaps even more encouraging—there are actually a few ways that you can improve your chances of winning. While we wouldn’t necessarily advise basing your future financial plans on buying the proverbial golden ticket, we recognize that playing the lottery can be fun. It can also be a generally affordable way to gamble, and it does come with the tantalizing, if typically brief, glimmer of hope that your next $2 investment could be the ticket which changes your life.
But how can you improve your chances of purchasing that life-changing ticket? Well, obviously, we don’t have all the answers. If we did, we’d be writing this article from a much larger house in a far more exotic part of the world. Still, there are steps you can take to improve your odds of winning the lottery. For most people, this will generally mean improving from terrible odds to merely bad odds. But hey, at least it’s something.
After all, if you plan to play the lottery, you might as well do it with a bit of strategy, and with every conceivable advantage, no matter how slim your slightly improved margins of probability are. Read on for a few tips from the experts—yes there are experts on winning the lottery—and see if you can apply these tactics to your own long-shot quest for easy riches…
Buy More Tickets
Simply stated, if you plan to play the lottery, more is better. While active lottery players may have all kinds of secret strategies for stoking their luck—including playing preferred numbers, buying tickets from a specific vendor, or buying tickets from an array of different vendors—all of this really amounts to little more than superstition. You’ll channel about as much statistical improvement in your prospective outcomes from “lucky numbers” as you might from a rabbit’s foot or a four-leaf clover. Experts say that the only real way to improve your chances of winning is to have more entries. According to “Harvard statistics professor Dr. Mark Glickman: Your odds only improve by buying more tickets for each game.”
In fact, a Romanian-Australian economist named Stefan Mandel took this strategy to the furthest logical conclusion, buying up enough tickets in an array of different drawings to ultimately win the lottery 14 times. This type of consistency is pretty compelling. Mandel clearly identified the mathematical formula for winning the lottery.
But before you get too excited, you should know that his achievements are no easy feat. Simply buying a very large number of tickets—even tens of thousands—while improving your odds, wouldn’t assure you of the kind of success that allowed Mandel to go from an $88 a month salary in communist Romania to early retirement on an island nation in the South Pacific.
Mandel’s background as a mathematician allowed him to both calculate the formula for victory and raise sufficient investment to exact this calculation. But this was quite the undertaking. Essentially, he cataloged 3,838,380 possible digit combinations in a six-digit lotto drawing and subsequently purchased one ticket containing every possible combination. Invariably, this strategy would allow him to possess at least one of the winning tickets in more than a dozen large-scale drawings.
It should be noted though that this strategy is tailored to a six-ball lotto with possible digits from 1 to 40. These figures may vary from one lottery to another. For instance, at the time of writing, the Mega Millions gives players the choice of “six numbers from two separate pools of numbers – five different numbers from 1 to 70 (the white balls) and one number from 1 to 25 (the gold Mega Ball).”
In other words, the size of your investment may vary. Mandel’s approach requires a hefty upfront investment. And in a drawing such as the Mega Millions noted above, the number of possible numerical combinations would be higher. As such, one’s investment in the number of ticket combinations would be yet higher. Not only is Mandel’s strategy a big undertaking, but it’s an expensive one as well. You basically need a guarantee of victory to justify spending this much on a lottery drawing.
Play Bigger Jackpots
The scale of your upfront investment is an important matter of consideration. Naturally, a guaranteed victory in the lottery lowers your risk, but you still have to produce the capital to purchase this guarantee. Be sure that the return is worth it.
If you plan to draw inspiration from Mandel’s model, the only real way to get your money’s worth is to shoot for the bigger jackpots. State-run lottery drawings offer worse odds than instant win games, but they also offer far bigger jackpots. National drawings like the Powerball and the Mega Millions offer longer odds still. But these national pools also offer the biggest bang for your buck, with some of history’s biggest jackpots exceeding the billion dollar mark.
Jackpot size plays an important part in Mandel’s strategy. Because playing every single combination requires a tremendous investment of initial capital, it is essential that the jackpot is sufficiently more than your investment. Thus, Mandel sought out only lotteries where the jackpot was a minimum of three times greater than the initial investment. This would allow him to comfortably recoup his investment, as well as the investments of his partners, while still turning a profit on each victory.
While you may not necessarily purchase every single combination of numbers in a given lottery, the lesson in Mandel’s approach is clear. Before you invest a large sum of money into a given lotto drawing, be sure your potential winnings are enough to justify what you’ll be spending. Scaling down Mandel’s strategy for your own more modest purposes, consider only purchasing large scores of lottery tickets when a state or national drawing reaches a certain threshold. You won’t likely have the same guarantee of victory that Mandel was able to purchase, but at the very least, you would do well to save your lotto budget only for the most alluring jackpots.
Focus on a Single Jackpot
To this point, experts suggest that you are far better off buying 100 tickets for a single Powerball drawing then you are buying 100 tickets for 100 consecutive daily drawings. While the expense is essentially the same, you do little to improve your odds of winning by buying a single ticket, or a small number of tickets, for a multitude of drawings. As noted above, if you play your lucky number on the Powerball today, you would have a roughly 1 292.2 million chance of winning. If you bought the same ticket tomorrow, you would once again have a roughly 1 in 292.2 million chance of winning.
That’s because, according to CNBC, “the odds of winning any given lottery remain the same despite the numbers selected or even if you buy a ticket for every drawing. Whether you play the lottery every day, or you’re buying your first-ever lottery ticket on a lark, the odds of winning any individual drawing or scratch-off ticket remain the same.”
The odds of every single lotto are independent of the odds of any other lotto drawing. If you buy one ticket every day of the week, your odds of winning remain 1 in 292.2 million throughout the week. If you buy seven tickets on just one day of the week, your odds on that day at least improve to 7 in 292.2 million.
Those aren’t amazing odds, but you catch our drift. You are far better served by saving and pooling your lotto budget for larger individual jackpots. Use your funds to buy a larger number of tickets in a single drawing, as opposed to playing your favorite drawings for a small investment everyday.
Pool Together an Investment Team
In order to finance his mathematically constructed scheme, Mandel required the capital to buy a ticket for every possible combination of Powerball sequences. Business Insider tells that Mandel, for instance, gathered together 2,524 investors in order to finance a guaranteed victory in the Virginia Lottery.
Naturally, this approach will cut into what you can earn. For instance, Mandel pulled a winner on a $1.3 million drawing in 1987. After paying out his fellow investors, he took home $97,000. While that may seem like a steep price to pay, Mandel demonstrated that the only real way to assure victory is to coordinate with a pretty big team.
Alternatively, you could simply possess the wealth to play the lottery using Mandel’s strategy. However, it seems reasonable to deduce that a wealthy individual enjoys access to investment opportunities with slightly better odds than the lottery. In other words, we’ll just presume that your strategy for victory doesn’t include unlimited starting funds. So if you do want to improve your chances of winning the lottery, think about getting together a squad of others who share your ambition. Pool together your resources to maximize the number of tickets you can play in a given lotto.
Again, you may not be in a position pursue victory with the same certainty and precision as did Mandel, but you can improve your odds by gathering together your friends, family, or coworkers for a joint venture. Indeed, there are few things to improve office morale than splitting several million dollars amongst yourselves.
Of course, if this is the approach you plan to take, plan for the best case scenario. That is, make sure there’s a real strategy in place for distributing your winnings. Avoid the always-present threat of conflict and legal dispute with your fellow investors by beginning with a clear and explicitly stated plan for how a jackpot will be divided.
Or … Set Your Sights Lower
While the Mandel strategy contains a great deal of wisdom, it also requires a great deal of orchestration and a ton of money. From the effort required to index every possible permutation of the six Powerball digits to the assembly of your investment team to the sheer labor of purchasing more than 300,000 tickets, there’s a lot of coordination and work that must go into procuring this victory.
We’re not trying to talk you out of it, but if you’re just looking for a nice little payday—the kind that could buy you a decent steak dinner, a tricked out new riding mower, or even a Disney vacation—you can seek out games with better odds and lower payouts.
You may not make life-changing money this way, but you are more likely to profit by spending $100 on scratch-off or instant winner games than by spending $100 for 50 Powerball tickets.
Liveabout advises players to “read the odds before you spend your money to maximize your chances of winning. By picking games with better odds, you boost your chances of being a lottery winner. Remember that lottery games like Powerball and MegaMillions are national lotteries. They have fixed odds of winning, but if many people enter, you could end up splitting a jackpot — and that lowers the value of your prize.”
We’re sure you’d be willing to settle for even a fraction of the MegaMillions. But still, if you’re willing to settle for small victories, you may want to play drawings with small jackpots and better odds. Just do the math before you put in a fortune on this strategy. Remember, there is a spending threshold past which you may improve your odds, but for a sum that might not justify the effort or investment. Find the sweet spot between a lower investment, better odds, and modest payouts.
Keep Your Expectations Modest
Of course, this approach hardly equals the giddy thrill of holding a prospective million dollar ticket in your hands as an upcoming Powerball drawing approaches. So if this is the type of feeling you’re searching for, the best insight comes from Dr. Lew Lefton, a faculty member at Georgia Tech’s School of Mathematics, who told CNBC “My advice is don’t play the lottery and expect to win…That said, it can be fun to play the lottery and imagine you win. That’s a different approach, and it’s just like any other gambling: You should only be willing to spend what you can afford to lose.”
This is the most valuable advice you can take with you into any game of chance. While victory could be life changing, this is hardly a sound retirement plan. Think of it as a game, invest only that which you would be willing to lose in a slot machine, incorporate the strategies above, and hope for the absolute best.
When you do win …
Now, since we believe in you, and because we’re rooting for you, we’d like to assume that this advice is so helpful that you’ll be faced with the happy problem of managing your winnings. Should you find yourself in this awesome position, make sure you are prepared to handle your new millions responsibly.
That may sound like an absurd piece of advice. Naturally, having millions is far easier than struggling from paycheck to paycheck. Still, you’d be surprised at how many lottery winners blow it all on poor decision making, excessive spending, bad business deals and good old-fashioned compulsive gambling.
So when that big day does finally come, certified financial planner Robert Pagliarini advises getting a “financial triad” in place to help you manage your windfall responsibly. He tells Business Insider that every lottery winner should hire an attorney, a tax specialist and a financial adviser. “This financial dream team,” Pagliarini says, “can help you make smart financial decisions and help you plan for the future. They can also help shield you from the media and from the onslaught of money requests from others.”
Be savvy not just about how you play the lottery, but how you win the lottery. To that end, you should also be aware that you will typically have two options upon winning. In most cases, you can be paid out in a lump sum or through spaced-out disbursements. According to CNBC “financial experts typically advise you to take the lump sum option (and invest your winnings in long-term stocks), rather than taking multi-year annuity payments.”
By doing so, you can immediately begin earning interest on your winnings. This is an especially good idea because your interest earnings can help offset at least a small fraction of the generally high taxes you’ll pay on your winnings. CNBC reports that for winnings over $5,000, you will face a minimum federal tax charge of 24%. The IRS will take the liberty of subtracting this sum from your winnings before you ever see a dime. This is another factor you’ll want to anticipate as you calculate your potential upfront investment, and the profit margin you would gain in the best case scenario.
Curious just how much you could actually make with a big win?
Well, according to Investopedia, the biggest Powerball jackpot in history was amassed in January 2016, when the drawing totaled $1.59 billion. The winnings were split between three ticket holders who purchased their winning stubs in California, Florida, and Tennessee. In other words, long odds aside, somebody does win the lottery. As the old lotto ad slogan goes, you can’t play if you don’t win.
And if the chances of winning the lottery seem impossibly slim, you should know that you’ve already won an even less likely random drawing. According to some experts, your odds of having been born at all are essentially one in 400 trillion. And I think we can all agree that it happened anyway. In other words, anything is possible.
So, I guess you just have to ask yourself one question…are you feeling lucky?