Can You Profit from Playing the Lottery?

Amanda Garland

If you played the lottery every week for the rest of your life, would you eventually win?

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lottery number drawBy Dylan Nolte on Unsplash

Gambling is never a great financial strategy, but the allure of a large jackpot is hard to resist. Winning a jackpot in the hundreds of millions could mean early retirement. Cue the visions of jet-setting around the world in first-class, lounging on private beaches, and eating at the most decadent restaurants.

All it takes is one chance to win. But what if you increased your odds by playing the lottery every single week? Certainly at some point during your lifetime you’d hit it big, right?

Not necessarily.

Sample case

Let’s pick the Powerball as an example to study. With jackpots routinely exceeding $100million, the $2 cost of a ticket seems more than worthwhile.

You already have your lucky numbers picked; 1 Powerball number (1–26) and 5 regular numbers (1–69). To give yourself the best odds possible you decide to play this same set of lucky numbers for every single drawing over the course of your entire life.

With a starting age of 18 (legal gambling age) and an average life expectancy of 78, that gives you 50 years’ worth of winning attempts. The Powerball draws numbers twice a week for each and every one of the 52 weeks in a year. Over the course of 50 years, this comes to a total of 5,200 chances to win (drawings).

So, we’ll take this number and apply it to the odds chart for winning each Powerball prize. The good news is that you will have lots of potential wins, nearly 300 $4 dollar wins for instance. Double your money is great, right? But remember you’re shelling out $2, each of those 5,200 times.

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Powerball odds over a lifetimeBy Amanda Garland

On the prizes at the $100 level or above, looking at the odds, playing 5,200 times still does not guarantee a win. The odds do improve though with the chances of hitting 4 regular numbers decreasing from 1 in 36,525 to 1 in 7.

After 50 years of playing this same set of numbers, you will have spent over $10,000 grand while your total winning will likely be less than $1,000.

Caveats

These sample stats are optimistic in that they assume the same combination of numbers won’t be called more than once during your lifetime. Since the drawing of the numbers is truly random, there is no guarantee that a combination of your numbers will ever in fact hit.

How often an individual number is drawn, varies wildly. Over the course of the last 5 years, the number 23 has been drawn 54 times while the number 51 has only been drawn 27 times.

Why look at only the last five years of stats? Because Powerball revamped its number selection in 2015 to increase the probability of larger jackpots. So, even if you play the same set of numbers for fifty years, there is no guarantee that your odds of winning will hold steady as Powerball can step in at any time and change up the number selection.

Is it worth playing?

So, can playing the lottery long-term be a profitable strategy?

No.

You are almost guaranteed to lose thousands of dollars over the course of your lifetime if you buy a ticket for every single drawing. There are tons of alternative methods for investing your $208 a year that are far superior to gambling. By sticking that money in a savings account that you never touch you are at least guaranteed not to lose any of the money.

That said if you do choose to fork over the cash to Lady Luck, your lifetime odds of hitting one of the big prizes increases dramatically. The odds of winning say the $50,000 prize, which would more than cover your lifetime investment, drops to 1 in 175.

In the end, if you look at the straight numbers, it’s not worth playing the lottery at all. But the daydreams of luxury and early retirement, that thrill of excitement you get as the numbers are drawn, and the potential, however low, of becoming an instant millionaire; well maybe that is worth your $2.

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A Texan and new mom, writing about things I am most passionate about; personal finance, parenting, and the events that shape Texas.

Dallas, TX
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