What are the odds of winning the lottery?

Lottery balls


Tess Vigeland: My husband buys a lottery ticket pretty much every week. A buck a pop. 'Cause we have just as much a chance as anybody, right? Plenty of you out there think playing the lottery is stupid. "A tax on people who are bad at math," says one post on our Facebook page. But I now know there's only one reason I haven't won yet: I'm playing in the wrong state.

See when you play the Missouri lottery, apparently there's a chance you'll become a winner -- twice. That's what happened to 57-year-old Ernest Pullen. Back in June he won $1 million on a scratch card. And three months later, another $2 million on another scratch card!

Don Ylvisaker: He's a lucky man.

Duh! Lucky and not fair! Don Ylvisaker teaches statistics at UCLA. Odds on the first winning ticket: one in 2.3 million. On the second: one in 100 million. But the good professor says contrary to popular belief, winning is not that uncommon. Even winning twice.

Ylvisaker: If you take all the people playing in the United States, there's a lot of people. And that somebody wins twice is no longer so impressive -- moreover, if you say within months, we don't know the man hasn't been playing for 15 years and won twice. It's about as common as say having a large rainstorm in the Northeast or something like that.

Then I want more rainstorms. Believe it or not, Ernest Pullen is not the luckiest guy in the world. No, that honor goes to 63-year-old Joan Ginther. She's won four -- count 'em -- four multi-million dollar jackpots in the last 17 years. Oh, and guess where she lives.


All right, now go to our Facebook page and tell us why you play the lottery, or don't.

About the author

Tess Vigeland is the host of Marketplace Money, where she takes a deep dive into why we do what we do with our money.
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I lost my ass playing the stock market from 2007 - 2009. I just had the horrible luck of getting into the investing world right when one of the worst recessions in centuries decided to hit. While I did recover a good portion of my invested money by the end of 2009 after the market recovered some, overall, the money I lost playing the stock market game was enough to require therapy.

Now I "invest" $20 a week on lottery games...which comes out to much more tolerable loss of a little over a grand year. For me, that is chump change compared to what happened to me while trying to build my wealth on Wall Street. And if I somehow do manage to win a jackpot on any of these games in the next 5 years, the return on investment will be far higher than what most stock portfolios will ever realize in the computer program controlled heavily manipulated casino called the stock market.

The lottery is the high risk portion of my investment portfolio; it accounts for one tenth of one percent of my monthly retirement savings. Most high risk/ high return investments require minimum purchases of several thousand dollars. There really isn’t another vehicle that can provide this kind of return for such a marginal investment. And it has very low transaction cost. Is a dollar a week ($4200 over my lifetime) worth a possibility of making tens of millions? I think so.

You'll never win if you don't play. And believe it or not, your odds of winning the lottery are BETTER than your odds of getting struck by lightening. More people win the jackpot in the US every year than get struck by lightening. That's a fact.

I buy $4-worth of big-stakes lottery tickets a week. I take my dog on 14 long country walks a week during which I fantasize what I'll do with my cash minus tax winnings totaling, say, $22 million. That's about 29 cents-worth of delicious fantasy each walk. My dog is happy. I'm happy. Even though we win nothing or very little, the fantasy (and of course the walks) are worth every penny!

PS: Out here, we don't get to go to the movies or order pizza in. So think about what we save!

My friend and I have been running an experiment for the past 6 years. He loves the lottery and I do not. As the test group, he purchases 5 lottery tickets per week. I am the control group- no purchases. So far, we are exactly even on our winnings. Check back in a few more years, maybe the experimental group will have pulled ahead!

I buy about 3 lottery tickets a month. I figure I'll never miss the $1 but I'll certainly notice if I win $1,000,000.

Both my parents are economists. They have a subscription to the lottery (in israel) They describe it as A. high risk high yield investment (very) B. A way to open the door to luck The thing is that if you buy lottery in moderation it is not "stupid tax" it became an issue if you do it irresponsibly. THe other issue is when there is too much of in equlity in society (and the US rank on the top of the list) people began to view this a way to get out of poverty and not through work because they stop believing that work will move them forward.

I'm among of the lucky ones, too. Several years ago I won 10K in the Powerball lottery. I didn't play much before I hit that modest amount, but these days, I buy a ticket most weeks. On the balance sheet, I'm still up, which softens the guilt in the guilty pleasure of a (mostly) silly purchase that always gives me at least a dollar's worth of dreaming

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