Scientists Say Record $1.3 Billion Powerball Jackpot Is Still Bad Bet

Andrew Follett | Energy and Science Reporter

The Powerball jackpot reached a record high of $1.3 billion after nobody won Saturday, but the odds of winning are so low that scientists and economists can’t explain why people play.

The immediate cash value lump-sum payment of winning the jackpot would be $806 million.

The odds of matching  six numbers to win a significant prize are 1 in 292.2 million. Powerball’s website states that statisticians have calculated the odds of winning the jackpot prize to be 1 in 17 billion.

The odds of picking the right combination of numbers is like flipping a coin and getting heads 28 times in a row. The odds of being struck by lightening over a lifetime are only 1 in 3,000. Your chances of being attacked by a shark are just one in 11.5 million.

Undeterred, players in California alone spent $59.1 million Saturday, according to The Los Angeles Times.

Powerball is run by the Multi-State Lottery Association, an Iowa based organization which includes 32 states and the District of Columbia. Most of the money collected by ticket sales goes to funding the jackpot. The remaining cash helps run the drawing, pay for advertising, fund game development, provide accounting services and other costs.

Whatever Powerball profits are left go back to the states.

The economics blog AfterEcon calculated that, even with a record setting jackpot, buying lottery tickets is still very irrational.

Economists and scientists do not fully understand the popularity of lotteries and gambling, which are rigged to favor “the house.” Even gambling which is “fair” and isn’t rigged to favor “the house,” it is still an irrational action according to economists.

There is no universally-accepted scientific explanation for why people play the lottery or gamble.

A 2013 study by psychologists concluded that the need to gamble may be deeply routed in evolution. The study found that gamblers relied on their past experiences to predict what might happen in the future, even in games where winning is totally random, like lotteries.

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