Tonight’s Mega Millions jackpot has climbed to an estimated $1.1 billion – the fourth time the game’s grand prize has climbed past $1 billion.
But what are your odds of winning?
Rong Chen, Distinguished Professor and chair of the Department of Statistics in the School of Arts and Sciences at Rutgers University-New Brunswick, answers questions about different strategies to pick numbers and maximize your chances before tonight’s drawing.
What are some ways to improve your probability of winning the lottery?
In theory and in practice, all combinations have equal probability of winning. That is, 11111111 has the same probability of winning as your birthday. And there is no “memory.” If the winning numbers last week were 11111111, those numbers have the same chance of winning as any other number today.
What are some strategies to employ?
The jackpot is shared by all the people who chose the winning numbers, so you want to use the combination that less people may choose – that includes numbers with a strong pattern (such as all the same number like 1111111), numbers on the edge and corners of the ticket form that you fill out, or numbers larger than 31 as many people choose to use birthdays. There was a study showing that such a strategy does reduce the sharing, though the chance of winning remains the same.
Are the odds of playing your birthday just as good as any other strategy? Does it make a difference if you pick your own numbers or let the computer pick the numbers?
For winning odds, all numbers are equally good (or bad).
So what are the odds of winning ... is it worth buying that ticket?
A perfectly “rational” person will not buy a lottery ticket, because the expected gain is always less than the price of the ticket – this is how the states make money from lottery. But we are not rational. This may be the only way for many people to change their life completely. And the price paid may be worth it for the "wonderful dreams" and the excitement of thinking what to do if you win.
However, when the jackpot grows large enough, and one can find a number that nobody else would pick, it may be worth it to buy the ticket.