National Geographic News

People lined up around the country to see if Lady Luck favored their (slim) chances of winning a Mega Millions jackpot of \$648 million.

Photograph by Joe Raedle, Getty

National Geographic

Published December 19, 2013

Someone out there owns a winning Mega Millions ticket worth half of the \$648 million jackpot. Is it you?

Chances are it won't be.

Ira Curry of Stone Mountain, Georgia, purchased a lucky ticket from a newsstand in Atlanta and won half the jackpot. Her strategy? Using family members' birthdays.

The other winner has not come forward—yet.

The odds of winning the Mega Millions jackpot hover around 1 in 259 million, thanks to an October 2013 increase in numbers available for the lottery. Before the increase, the odds of winning the jackpot were 1 in 176 million.

To put that in perspective, the population of the United States is around 317 million people.

Lottery Design Makes It Nearly Impossible to Win

To understand the lottery, you need to understand odds.

Lottery jackpots grow when the numbers on the tickets people buy don't match the numbers that are drawn. When no matches occur, the jackpot increases. This particular prize grew after 20 straight drawings with no matches.

Experts say that the Mega Millions lottery has grown exponentially in size thanks to a larger pool of numbers introduced in October. More numbers means fewer chances of matching the drawn numbers, which in turn leads to ever increasing prizes.

The more people who play the lottery, the bigger the jackpot becomes and the lower the odds of winning—becoming a vicious cycle.

Odds of Winning Lottery Low

Trying to figure out the odds of winning the lottery? Here are some things that are more likely to happen to you.

• Odds of winning something (even the dollar you spent to get the ticket) in the lottery: 1 in 15

• Odds of winning the second-place \$1 million prize (matching the numbers on five balls but not the required megaball): 1 in 18.5 million.

I disagree with Villa Libra that the odds of winning the lottery is zero if you don't buy a ticket, but it is close to zero.  You could always be given at winning ticket as a gift or find one.  I also don't believe it is 100% luck, as I believe that God can and does use everything, including lottery winning, for His own purposes.
http://bit.ly/1bTUYyd
http://bit.ly/1i0R8Gc

TKList T.

The odds change a little if you trying to get hit by lighting by standing in a lighting storm with a long metal pole in the air. Compare those odds to people who play the lottery all the time.

The results should be interesting.

This is a rehash of an article on cnn.com which was a rehash of an article on la times.  You should go to the original source (CDC data); you'd realize that your murder rate is way too high.  Your odds of being murdered today are more like 1 in 7,000,000. Why do you just copy the incorrect data (without mentioning your source) instead of looking it up yourself, especially when it is obviously incorrect?  The entire US population would be decimated by murder (1/10th killed) every 5 years at your rate.   What I think was the original article, on LA Times, by David Lazarus, at least mentions the source: "By way of context, your odds of being murdered are just 1 in 18,989, according to the website DiscovertheOdds.com." Discovertheodds.com, who write in http://discovertheodds.com/what-are-the-odds-of-being-murdered/ wrote:  "Based on the data from the CDC report, deaths due to homicide accounted for less than 1% of all U.S. deaths, with the odds of being murdered at 1 in 18,989."  They apparently mean a time frame of one year.

Walter Martin

And, the odds of getting killed by a terrorist are..............

The exact same as the odds we can stop the NSA.

Wayne S.

You stated "The more people who play the lottery, the bigger the jackpot becomes and the lower the odds of winning..." is incorrect.  The odds of any one set of numbers on a ticket being the winning numbers is unchanged from 1 in 258,890,850 (for the Mega Millions) regardless on the number of people buying tickets.  The more people who play the lottery does increase the odds that someone will win as more of the 258,890,850 combinations will be picked.  Also the odds that more than one winning ticket will be sold increases as more people play.

I disagree with Villa Libra that the odds of winning the lottery is zero if you don't buy a ticket, but it is close to zero.  You could always be given at winning ticket as a gift or find one.  I also don't believe it is 100% luck, as I believe that God can and does use everything, including lottery winning, for His own purposes.

Villa Libra

Chance of winning the lottery if you don't buy a ticket: zero. So I'll take odds of 1 in several million and still feel it could be me. As the saying goes, "You've got to be in it to win it." Frankly, it's all 100% down to luck. Nothing else really counts. I have my own little just-for-fun page which generates my own personal random quick pick

numbers. As I say, it is only for fun, but you never know your luck! Look out for VillaLibra if you want to see if you can locate it.

Nick Colbalt

@Villa Libra Chances of winning the lottery if you play? Zero.

You will never win. Ever. Not a chance. That's what the odds are telling you but you fail to see it. Unless you are playing it for pure entertainment value, you are wasting your money. The lottery is a tax upon the stupid. Plain and simple.