Mega Millions vs. perfect NCAA bracket: What are the odds?

Posted: March 16, 2011

Here's a St. Patrick's Day bar bet:

Which is tougher, winning Mega Millions' $201 million jackpot or randomly filling out a perfect NCAA tournament pool?

The answer isn't close.

Mega Millions is about 50 billion times easier to win.

In fact, it would be easier to hit two jackpots with just two tickets.

Not that any lottery's odds remotely resemble "good."

With a single Mega Millions ticket, a player has a 1 in 172 million chance of hitting all the numbers drawn tomorrow night. (Powerball's 1 in 195.2 million.)

The payoff, of course, can be enormous. - even the cash option is worth $128 million in Mega Millions.

For a flawless NCAA bracket, players can win $1 million or more at a variety of places, including Philly.com (http://bit.ly/dWetaF), local sports station 97.5 The Fanatic, and AOL Sports.

But the chance of winning via pure guesswork, mathematicians agree, is about 1 in 9 quintillion - a 9 followed by 18 zeroes - and that's not counting any play-in games, just the main 63.

Basically each winner has a 1 in 2 chance of being picked in this scenario, so the odds of getting all 63 would be 1 in 2 to the 63d power, or 2 multiplied by itself 63 times.

True, the odds of predicting some games are better than 50-50, and factoring that in does improve the overall odds.

But say you were 100 percent sure of 20 games and the other 43 were like the flip of a coin. The odds are still a staggering 1 in 9 trillion.

Let's push the envelope further, and vary the probabilities of being right. Suppose you're 100 percent sure for 10 games, 90 percent for 10 more, 80 percent for another 10, 70 percent for 11, 60 percent for another 11, and 50 percent for the last 11. That covers all 63 match-ups.

The odds are still worse than Powerball or Mega Millions - about 1 in 730 million.


Contact staff writer Peter Mucha at 215-854-4342 or pmucha@phillynews.com.

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