The dual Powerball and Mega Millions jackpots promise a massive return: For just $2 per ticket, you could win more than $300 million in either drawing.
Just don't quit your day job quite yet. The odds of winning both jackpots are one in 75 quadrillion -- that's 15 zeros -- according to data scientists at Allstate. You have a better chance of winning just one of the jackpots: a mere one in 290 million for Powerball and one in 258 million for Mega Millions.
To understand how unlikely those odds are, it's worth comparing them to the probability of other unlikely events. Americans are much more likely to get struck by lightning (odds of one in 13,500) or to die in a car accident (one in 645). While the old lottery campaign "You've got to be in it to win it" holds true, the real value in buying a ticket may simply be to enjoy the dream of winning.
"The way I look at it, I have friends who have played, and for $2 I get to imagine being a five hundred millionaire," said Ben Auerbach, lead data strategist for Allstate. "That's a feeling that very few of us will get to experience. Imagining that may be worth that cost of admission."
The winning Powerball numbers drawn Wednesday were 12, 30, 36, 47, 62, and the Powerball number was 9. The top prize for the Powerball drawing was an estimated $307 million.
The next drawing for Mega Millions is on Friday at 11 p.m. Eastern time.
Auerbach, who said he himself doesn't play the lottery, said there is one of way of bettering the odds of winning: Buy more tickets. "In principle, you could go out and buy all the lottery tickets. You could buy 300 million of them and if the lottery is $302 million, you'd make money," he quipped.
One risk of spending more money on tickets is that another person might buy a ticket with a winning number. That means the winners would split the jackpot, lowering the return on investment in the tickets.
So who is making out in the lottery sales? Convenience stores, for one. Big jackpots tend to bring customers into gas stations and convenience stores, said Jeff Lenard, vice president of strategic industry initiatives at the National Association of Convenience Stores. Its members sell about two-thirds of all lottery tickets in the U.S.
The giant Powerball and Mega Million jackpots are feeding on each other, with customers coming into stores to buy a ticket for one and noticing the other jackpot, he said.
"The key thing for awareness is really, once you go into the store to buy one, there's that screen that shows that there's another big jackpot," Lenard said. "It's that digital signage inside the store that's driving that double interest."
Convenience stores make about a dime on a $2 ticket, or about 5 percent to 6 percent on each dollar spent. Winning stores also earn a commission, although the amount varies by state.
Lenard said he bought a ticket for each jackpot. Asked what he though of the odds, he noted, "It was a nice investment on some nice dreams. whether or not they happen, particularly lately."
The average Americans spends about $200 a year on lottery tickets.
Following are the odds of winning the jackpots, as calculated by Allstate, along with the chances of other unlikely events:
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