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Playing Powerball: What the Numbers Say About Us


Powerball tells us a lot about how some people use math, rationality, and education in general when buying lottery tickets. (source: The Week, February 12, 2016)

  1. 54% of ticket sales come from 5 percent of players who tend to be poor and uneducated.

  2. “Buying lottery tickets exacerbates the very poverty that purchasers are hoping to escape,” Emily Haisley, financial expert.

  3. In most states, 60% of ticket revenue goes to jackpot, winners surrender 40% in taxes, lottery company and ticket retailers get a cut, and the remainder – about 25 to 30% go to the state’s coffers.

  4. State governments use lottery proceeds for the general fund, despite the promise of state officials promising to pour proceeds into education.

  5. People with household incomes below $25,000 spend an average of $583 a year on the lottery; people with household incomes over $100,000 a year spend $289 on the lottery. (1999 Duke University study)

  6. College dropouts spend about $700 on lottery tickets; people with degrees only $178.

  7. Studies show that poorer players are 25% more likely than richer players to consider a lottery ticket a genuine investment and to greatly overestimate their chance of winning.

  8. State lotteries have become viable sources of state’s budgets whereby lawmakers consider it political suicide to do anything that interferes with that revenue stream.

  9. “Politicians view lotteries as a victimless source of revenue,” says tax expert David Brunori.

But if you must play…

Here are some suggestions on maximzing your chances of not having to share the jackpot if you do get lucky:

  1. Don’t pick numbers between 1 and 31 (something about the statistics favoring higher numbers)

  2. Don’t pick obvious combinations, such as 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.

  3. Be sure to check your tickets: $2 billion worth of prizes went unclaimed in 2015.

  4. Create a Limited Liability Corporation (LLC) to avoid having to publicly identify yourself as a lottery winner and avoid the harrassment from long-lost friends and relatives, financial “advisors.”

  5. Buy early in the lottery cycle so you can “extend the pleasure of anticipation.” I could say more but I have to finish entering the HGTV Dream Home Giveaway…

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Former Fortune 500 hiring manager Donn LeVie Jr. is the author of Strategic Career Engagement (September 2015), and the book that reset the rules for successful job and career strategies:  Confessions of a Hiring Manager Rev. 2.0 (June 2012, Winner of the 2012 Global eBook Award and Winner of the 2012 International Book Award for Jobs/Careers). He leads career strategy seminars at conferences, business/trade schools, colleges and universities, and U.S. military veterans organizations.

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