Have you ever dreamed of being rich? What would you buy if you had millions of dollars? And what if you could have millions of dollars by just spending a couple dollars? That’s the lure of the lottery…

A lottery is a gambling game that’s used to raise money. At its most basic level, a lottery involves paying a small amount of money — to purchase a lottery ticket, for example — for the chance to win a prize, such as a large sum of money.

Lotteries don’t involve skill. Since lotteries are determined purely by chance, all you need to be is lucky…VERY lucky! Today, there are many different types of lotteries: from simple “50/50” drawings at local events (the winner gets 50% of the proceeds from tickets sold) to multi-state lotteries with jackpots of several million dollars.

So what are your odds of winning the jackpot? As it turns out, they’re not so good. Although the exact odds depend upon many factors, let’s look at a couple of examples.

In a lottery in which you pick 6 numbers from a possible pool of 49 numbers, your chances of winning the jackpot (correctly choosing all 6 numbers drawn) are 1 in 13,983,816. That’s 1 shot in almost 14 million. If you were to buy one lottery ticket each week in such a scenario, you could expect to win once every 269,000 years.

Unfortunately, many lotteries have even worse odds than the scenario just described. For example, the popular Mega Millions multi-state lottery has odds of approximately 1 in 175,711,536. That’s right — 1 in almost 176 million!

If the odds are so bad, why do so many people spend money on lottery tickets? That’s a great question. For most, it appears to be the entertainment factor of taking a chance and indulging the fantasy of getting rich quickly.

So should you spend money on lottery tickets? There are, after all, people who win big money. In 2007, two people split a $390 million Mega Millions jackpot, the world’s largest jackpot ever.

However, the odds against that happening to you are astronomical…literally. According to figures from the National Weather Service, you’re over 20,000 times more likely to be struck by lightning at some point in your lifetime than you are to win the Mega Millions jackpot.

An alternative to spending money on lottery tickets is investing that money. For example, if you would normally spend $150 each year on lottery tickets, consider putting that money instead in an investment that yields an 8% return. Over the course of 40 years, that yearly investment could be worth more than $38,000. Some might consider that a lottery win in itself! 

21 Join the Discussion

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  1. Hi Wonderoplis,
    I really love your website and maybe could you make a wonder about how soccer is dangerous? Because I really love soccer and I am really good at it, too, and my friends are always breaking their arms… but luckily I haven’t gotten hurt.
    Thx, :)

    • Hi, :)! Thanks for letting us know how much you like visiting Wonderopolis! A Wonder about sports or soccer injuries would be very interesting! Thank you for suggesting it! Did you know you can let us know what you’re WONDERing any time you like? Just click on the “nominate” link at the top of each page in Wonderopolis! It’s really easy! :-)

  2. We like interesting facts about how the lottery isn’t so much a skill but more of luck. We learned that it’s 176,000,000 of a chance of winning. That’s crazy and amazing! The chances of winning is very small. I don’t think I will play.

    • It’s probably a pretty smart move to save your money for other things, Duke (unless you’re feeling unusually lucky one day)! Thank you for telling us what you learned from visiting this Wonder! :-)

  3. Hi, I’m Mukund from Mrs. Caplin’s class. I learned that the chances of winning a lottery in which you must pick six numbers out of 49 is 1 in 13,989,816. I also learned that you are 20,000 times more likely to get struck by lightning in some point in your life than winning the Mega Millions jackpot. Have you ever won the lottery? I learned that if you were to buy 1 lottery ticket each week you could expect to win every 269,000 years. I really liked this wonder.

    • Thanks so much for leaving us a comment to let us know all the awesome things you learned by visiting this Wonder, Makund! We haven’t won any lotteries, but we like hearing stories about people who do! We like hearing how some people who win large sums of money use their winnings to make the world a better place and help others. Those are our favorite kinds of lottery stories! :-)

  4. Hello Wonderopolis! Guess who’s back for more amazing comments? You guessed it, TJ! :) Today’s wonder was cool. I would really love to win the lottery so I can have a million dollars! :D I’m not sure what tomorrow’s wonder will be about.

    TJ :)

    • Hi TJ! Thanks for WONDERing with us! We’re so glad you’re back! Winning the lottery would be WONDERful! Keep WONDERing with us! :)

  5. Burning question:How does the method work for him and the people?

    AH ha: The moment I had was me knowing that could be my family some day.

    World Connection:The connection I had was I agree with that woman. His method does actually work.

    • Hi Bailey! Thanks for WONDERing with us! We’re so glad you liked the article! Saving your money is a very wise thing! We’re very impressed! We’ve had so much fun WONDERing with you! :)

    • Hi Zachary! Thanks for WONDERing with us! The lottery was invented a VERY long time ago! Almost back to 200 BC in China! The lottery system has changed a lot through time however, so it would be interesting to WONDER what it was like back then! Keep WONDERing! :)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • What are your odds of winning the lottery?
  • Is playing the lottery a wise financial decision?
  • How much was the largest jackpot in world history?

Wonder Gallery

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Try It Out

Feeling lucky? Well, we’ll just see about that! Grab a few friends or family members…and maybe a lucky four-leaf clover…and check out one or more of the following activities:

  • Even if the odds of winning the lottery aren’t very good, we’ve all dreamed from time to time about what we would do with a million dollars (or more). What would you do? Spend some time today daydreaming about how you would spend a million dollars if you won the lottery. Where would you go? What would you see? What kinds of things would you buy? Would you give some money away? How much would you save for the future? Discuss your thoughts with your friends and family members. How would they counsel you to spend your winnings?
  • You learned in today’s Wonder of the Day that the odds are stacked mightily against you as far as winning the lottery. But just how bad are those odds? See for yourself. Use this simple online calculator to calculate your chances of winning the lottery. If you want to make these calculations as real as possible, use numbers that reflect your state lottery, if your state has one. Given the odds you calculate, what do you think about playing the lottery. Is it a good financial decision? Why or why not?
  • Still tempted by the possibility of winning hundreds of millions in the multi-state Mega Millions lottery? Use the online Incredibly Depressing Mega Millions Lottery Simulator! and see what you can expect to get back on your “investment” in Mega Millions lottery tickets! When you’re finished checking out your odds of winning the lottery, use this savings calculator to see how much money you could save over time by putting it in the bank instead of spending it on lottery tickets. Which do you think is the better decision?

Still Wondering

Explore Science NetLinks’ Marble Mania interactive activity to learn more about randomness and probability.

 

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