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Mega Millions: Statistics offer cold reality check

March 29, 2012 |  1:13 pm

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Have you bought a Mega Millions ticket for Friday’s drawing?

California statistician Mike Orkin, the author of “What Are the Odds? Chance in Everyday Life,” put the chances of winning in perspective.

By the numbers, you have a 1 in 175,711,536 chance of picking the winning numbers.

PHOTOS: Mega Millions fever

That means the following, according to Orkin:

If you buy 50 tickets a week, you will win the jackpot every 68,000 years.

If every time you drive a mile, you buy one ticket, you will have to drive an average distance of 370 roundtrips to the moon before you win the jackpot.

If you buy one ticket and have one friend in Canada and you put the names of every single person in Canada in a container and draw a name at random, you are five times more likely to draw your friend’s name than win the jackpot.

If you buy one ticket, you are 33 times more likely to be killed in the next year by a wasp or bee than you are to win the jackpot.

Orkin, an associate vice chancellor at the Peralta Community College District, said you could guarantee a win, but only if you bought 176 million tickets and selected a different combination of numbers for each one.

Even if you had the money to do that, there is one problem: If you fill out three tickets a minute, 24 hours a day, it will take 110 years to fill them out.

All of that said, Orkin said it’s still worth a try.

“For a $1 bet, you can change your lifestyle if you win,” he said. “One dollar isn’t going to make you go bankrupt. Here you have this very, very small chance of completely changing your lifestyle, so why not spend a dollar on it?”

Orkin said that most people recognize that they aren’t going to be that one extremely lucky person who gets the $540 million jackpot. But they play anyway because they don’t want to be left out.

“It is sort of a public frenzy,” he said. “People like to get into the action.”

And take heart –- if you lose on Friday, you will be in good company. You will be part of a massive social network.

“This is like the Facebook for gambling,” he said. “For every winner, there are 176 million losers. You are just part of that group.”


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--Anna Gorman

Photo: A Mega Millions lottery ticket is printed out. Credit: Getty Images