What are the odds?
Whenever the Powerball jackpot climbs into stratospheric payoff realms, the publicity ramps up, as well. This, of course, results in a frenzy of ticket buying fueled by that good old American virtue. Greed.
The thinking goes, Well, somebody’s going to win the windfall, so it’s worth a try. But is it, really?
The odds of winning the correct five of the 69 possible numbers, plus the correct one of the 26 Powerball numbers, are one in 292,201,338. That number is eight times the entire population of Canada. The odds of choosing just the five correct numbers are still one in 11,688,053. To put that in some perspective, the odds of being struck by lightning in any given year are only one in 700,000.
You’re far better off trying for sainthood (a one in 20,000,000 possibility) or hoping to draw a royal flush in poker on the first five cards (a one in 649,740 chance) or expecting to bowl a perfect 300 score (one in 11,500 odds) or attempting to sink a hole-in-one in golf (odds for an average duffer 12,500 to one).
Yet millions continue to feed their money into lotteries in 44 states, D.C., Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgins. (Conspicuously there is no lottery in Nevada.) In 2014, these lotteries took in $70.1 billion. And such is the American addiction to gambling that 508 commercial casinos and 470 tribal casinos across the land now rake in another $20 billion or so per year. That’s a total of some ninety thousand million dollars per year. And ironically this behemoth industry is taking no chance at all itself. It isn’t gambling like its patrons are. It risks nothing, despite its glittering payouts, because the odds are always heavily in its favor, and the demand for it never goes away.
Gambling in the hope of becoming rich, of getting something for nothing, is ill-advised, to say the very least, especially if it strains your budget. The odds are simply way too heavily weighted against you.
Besides, you’ve already won one of the greatest possible lotteries.
What are the odds that life would arise on this rather ordinary planet circling a modest star at just the right distance in a particular galaxy of several billion stars among the many billions of galaxies, and that this life would adapt and improve over deep time to produce sentient creatures capable of determining their own destiny? What are the odds that the right two lineages of those creatures among the myriad millennia-long ancestral lineages of those creatures would eventually combine to produce a single unique sperm and a single unique egg at the perfect instant to create unique you?
What are the odds you would be born into a time in the long evolution of humanity when so many killer diseases have been vanquished, when so much about all things has already been learned (often at great sacrifice and cost), a time when you can even witness mankind’s early explorations of the Universe?
What are the additional odds that you would be privileged to live in a land of such advanced technology that your major organs and joints can be replaced and life expectancy is higher by far than it ever was, a land of abundant resources and excellent available nutrition, a land of clean water, a land where you can have access to virtually all mankind’s knowledge in a pocket communication device, a land where you’re free to express your opinions and become whatever you wish if you’re only willing to work at it, where you’re free to save and invest the fruits of your labor, free to enjoy life more richly than any other previous generation on our planet? (Some 660 million people in Africa have no electricity, much less electric toothbrushes.)
The odds of all that happening in perfect synchronicity are so preposterous as to verge on the impossible. Billions to one? Trillions to one?
Yet here you are in this place and time.
Congratulations on your big win.