California Powerball: What are your odds of winning?


Like California's Mega Millions, another multi-state lottery game, it will offer potentially huge jackpots. But what are your real odds of winning the game?

"Essentially, they have no chance, but it's not zero," said Gary Lorden, Caltech professor emeritus of mathematics. He is an expert on probability and statistics.

Lorden analyzed the probability of winning the top prize of the new game. First, you have to pick all five numbers drawn from a pool of 59 white balls.

"That's calculated at 59 times 58 times 57 times 56 times 55, divided by five times four times three times two times one," he said.

Easy enough for a math whiz, but then you have to pick the Powerball number itself. You have 35 to choose from, and the odds of hitting all six numbers and winning the top prize is 175,223,510, according to Lorden.

Those odds are almost exactly the same as the current Mega Millions game. But a Powerball ticket costs twice as much at $2, compared to a $1 for Mega Millions.

Overall, the odds that you'll win any money in Mega Millions, where the prizes start at $2, is nearly 40 percent. Compare that with Powerball's 31.85 percent. Statistically speaking, Powerball is a bad bet.

Lorden says you have a much better chance of making money in the stock market, even in Las Vegas, where the odds are stacked against you in every game.

The Caltech mathematician says while the high payouts will lure Californians to Powerball, he says from a statistical standpoint, you're more likely to be killed in an accident on your way to buying a lottery ticket than you are to win the big prize.

"And, that would be too bad, particularly if you got hit on your way home, and they found you with your ticket in your pocket, and they your heirs would have to cash it," Lorden said.

As for this math genius, Lorden says he understands the odds too well to play the lottery. He's only bought two tickets in his life. Although, he said he might buy just one Powerball ticket to see if he can beat those astronomical odds.

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