60-Second Science

You Did Not Win The Lottery

Playing a typical big lottery, like this week's Mega Millions worth $370 million, is a bad risk.

Hey, did you play the big Megamillions lottery Tuesday, with a total jackpot of 370 million dollars.  Jeez, I hope not. 

Back in 2001 I was stuck in a huge traffic jam in the Bronx.  The jam-up was due to a 295 million dollar Powerball lottery, tickets for which were only available in nearby Connecticut.  As a confirmed non player of lotteries, I was annoyed by the frenzy.  And I got in touch with Michael Orkin, professor of statistics at California State University at Hayward. 

Orkin is also the author of the book “What Are the Odds? Chance in Everyday Life”.  And Orkin gave me this hypothetical situation.  Let’s say you have to drive 10 miles to buy your lottery ticket.  Your odds of getting killed in a car crash on your way to buy the ticket are 16 times greater than your chances of actually winning the lottery.  If you can walk to buy the ticket, then you merely face a virtually 100 percent chance of losing your money.  Like the woman I heard on the radio who almost certainly blew $65 on lottery tickets.  Money better spent on a lightning rod.

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