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You can guarantee winning the $1.3 billion Powerball jackpot — but you’ll need an army

One ticket is the difference between having a 1-in-292,201,338 chance of winning the now-$1.3 billion jackpot — or absolutely no chance.

However, the one-ticket, one-draw strategy makes no sense if you have millions and millions of dollars to spend.

That’s because there is a way to 100% guarantee you will hit the jackpot: Buy enough tickets to cover every possible number combination before a drawing.

Powerball recently changed its drawing setup. These days, a machine sucks up five white balls from a bin of 69 balls, each with a different number. It also sucks up one red Powerball from a bin of 26 different balls.

To take home the jackpot, your ticket must have the same five white numbers — order doesn’t matter — and the one red number.

If you do the math, there are 11,238,513 possible combinations of five white balls (without order mattering). Multiply that by the 26 possible red balls, and you get 292,201,338 possible Powerball number combinations.

At $2 per ticket, you’d need $584,402,676 to buy every single combination and guarantee a win.

But think this out for a moment.

The Powerball draws only twice a week: Every Wednesday and Saturday. So how are you going to print that many tickets in less than four days? Even if you can cram multiple picks onto one ticket? And just how do you plan to ensure each combination is different?

You’d need an army of trustworthy people at thousands of locations across the country, sucking the Powerball ticket-printing machines dry. You’d need state, regional, and local coordinators to keep everything streamlined, and good technology to verify every number requested is different. Plus scary-sounding contracts to make sure none of your workers walk off with your winnings.

Even then you’re not guaranteed to win the current estimated $1.3 billion jackpot (before taxes, that is).

You have to weigh the risk that one or more other people got the winning combination for that draw, too — forcing the lottery commission to split up the jackpot. Even though you’re raising the jackpot by buying so many tickets, one (very likely) fluke could leave you in the red.

At the end of the day, buying out the lottery isn’t practical. But buying just one ticket, especially now, does make economic sense.

You'll need an army. And you'd better trust that army, too.

Do Powerball Numbers Have To Be In Order?

The payout of America’s biggest lottery, the Powerball, has hit 10 figures, so it’s now possible for a $2 ticket to become worth $1.5 billion if the right numbers are drawn. The basics of the Powerball are simple: Pick six numbers, watch the Powerball people pull six numbers out of a drum, and hope that your numbers match theirs. But there’s still a lot of confusion about how the drawing works. For example, do Powerball numbers have to be drawn in order?

UPDATE: This post was originally published in January 2016. As of Aug. 23, 2017, the new Powerball jackpot has hit $700 million (and if there are no winners, it’ll go to $1 billion). The Powerball will be drawn at 10:59 p.m. EST.

EARLIER: Surprisingly, they don’t. The official Powerball website, which looks like a relic from 1996, details the nine different ways to win a Powerball prize, and none of them require players to match the actual order of the numbers that are drawn. Just selecting the same numbers, or a subset of them, is sufficient.

The next Powerball will be drawn Wednesday. Naturally, with the jackpot having blown past the billion dollar mark, some people are wondering if it’s now rational, from a statistical standpoint, to invest in a $2 ticket. Writing at The Federalist, Sean Davis crunched the numbers and determined that no, it still isn’t. Given the probability of winning and the number of people who play, the maximum expected payout for any given Powerball ticket is $1.12. Close, but no cigar.

However, that may soon change. The amount of money that a Powerball winner takes home depends on whether they choose to accept their prize in one lump sum cash sum — obviously an appealing option — or in annual payments over the course of three decades. The latter option is more profitable, and it’s what the current $1.5 billion payout is based on. Choose the lump sum, and you “only” get $930 million.

Once the cash payout reaches $1.5 billion, however, a $2 ticket will result in an average prize of $2.01, assuming the number of tickets bought stays constant, at around 500 million. This would finally make buying a Powerball ticket a mathematically-sound decision, though only barely. The maximum payout from a winning ticket rises every time there’s a drawing with no winner, so it’s conceivable that we could reach this point soon.

Of course, most people aren’t thinking this way when they buy a lottery ticket. For many of us, the possibility of becoming a billionaire overnight with a measly $2 investment is too tantalizing an opportunity to pass up, no matter what the odds.

The payout of America’s biggest lottery, the Powerball, has hit 10 figures, so it’s now possible for a $2 ticket to become worth $1.5 billion if the right numbers are drawn. The basics of the Powerball are simple: Pick six numbers, watch the… ]]>