Powerball: Up your odds of winning $500M

Posted: November 28, 2012

Buy one ticket and the odds of winning Wednesday night's record Powerball jackpot are a microscopic 1 in 175 million.

It's not zero, but it's pretty close.

So wouldn't it be nice to improve those odds - especially with a jackpot of at least $500 million? (Increased today, it could be raised again tomorrow.)

It is possible to make this looooooongshot a little shorter, even without praying to St. Pantaleon, the patron saint of lotteries.

Strategy No. 1: Obviously, buy more tickets. Buy 10 - if you can spare $20 - and now your odds are 1 in 17.5 million. Still terrible odds, but a bit better. Even 1 in a million is nothing to bet a day's pay on.

Strategy No. 2: Forget the Power Play. This prize-boosting option doesn't help with jackpots, so target that cash to tickets. The $1 Power Play option just boosts secondary prizes, and, frankly, Powerball has poor odds for secondary prizes. For a better shot at winning $1 million, wait till a Cash 5 jackpot rises that high.

Strategy No. 3: Form or join a lottery pool. Get 100 people to each put in $20 and those 1,000 tickets bring the odds down to 1 in 175,000 of having a winning ticket. Alas, you won't get the whole cash payout of $278.3 million, but $2.78 million ain't bad, even after taxes get deducted.

Be sure to keep good records of who's in, who's not. Hand out photocopies of all the tickets, in case an organizer or spouse hits with a non-group purchase. Also, reach out to any regulars home sick or on vacation. Coworkers sued and won in a New Jersey case, and a Mega Millions jackpot worth $118 million has been tied up in Illinois courts since May.

Note that it makes zero sense to try to form a syndicate that buys every possible number combination. Besides being physically impossible to do in a day, it would cost $350 million ($2 a ticket x 175 million combinations), which is more than the cash payout. Worse, taxes take a huge chunk, and that jackpot might be split several ways.

Strategy No. 4: Do a parley. Instead of plunking everything down on Powerball, put your max investment on an easier drawing to win, vowing to plow the winnings, plus that original losable amount, into Powerball. Example: Spend $20 on 40 Daily Number tickets - straight not boxed - and you have a 1 in 25 chance of winning $250. That $250, plus the original $20, would buy 135 tickets, and now your shot is in the neighborhood of 1 in a million without risking more than $20. Playing a game with a bigger payout, to better the odds, has a major drawback: lack of time to collect winnings. In Pennsylvania, lottery retailers can pay out no more than $600. Bigger winners have to go to lottery offices.

Strategy No. 5. Play the numbers that have won the most. Probably pointless, since lotteries are vigilant about keeping things fair and square. But suppose it's not totally random that 2 and 20 have been the most common Powerball numbers. Or that landing in the first five most often have been 20, 41, 32, 26 and 16, followed by 42, 45, 40 and 22. Recalculating the odds suggests that if such anomalies are no accident, using combinations of these numbers might bring the odds down to about 1 in 60 million per ticket - or 1 in 6 million for that $20.

Other tips:

(a) Check and double-check your tickets. Jackpots have gone unclaimed.

(b) Don't toss tickets away without hearing where the winning ones were sold. Electronic ticket-checkers allegedly have been wrong. According to an Arizona lawsuit, a woman threw away a jackpot winner she had checked, only to learn the prize was claimed by a woman who fished it from the trash. Finders keepers? Not according to the judge.

(c) There's always next time.

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

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