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$640 Million Jackpot Sparks Big Buzz

March 30, 2012 by staff 

$640 Million Jackpot Sparks Big Buzz, One in 176 million. Let me spell that out: 1 in 176,000,000. But it’s another number-$640,000,000-that’s creating a feeding frenzy among ticket buyers hoping for a shot at that historic Mega Millions jackpot. (Heck, even a gorilla is playing.) The bounty crushes the previous record of $390 million. Then again, that 2007 number came when only a dozen states got to play. Now 42 states plus Washington, D.C., and the Virgin Islands are participating, which makes the bounty huge but the 1-in-176-million odds inconceivably long.

A teachable math moment. Eight out of 10 conversations this week: “Did you know that you have more of a chance of X than of winning the lottery?” Yes, the glee surrounding the impossible odds has been as heady as the fantasy of winning itself. And people tend to put these odds in mighty grim terms, tallied by Dakota Wesleyan University (Mitchell, S.D.) mathematics department chair Mike Catalano:

“You are about 50 times as likely to get struck by lightning as to win the lottery, based on the 90 people a year getting struck by lightning. … Based on other U.S. averages, you’re about 8,000 times more likely to be murdered than to win the lottery, and about 20,000 times more likely to die in a car crash than hit the lucky numbers.”

But why be so discouraging? Instead, how about being inspired by equally distant but cheerier odds? For instance, your chance of becoming president (1 in 10,000,000) is better than winning the lottery, so go for the Oval Office. (The president, incidentally, does not plan to buy, despite his good history with long shots.)

Who plays: Lottery foes feel the contest feeds on the hopes of people who can’t afford to spend even a dollar on a dream. Fox News cited a study:

A 2008 study from Journal of Risk and Uncertainty explained that households earning under $13,000 per year spend about 9 percent of their income on lottery tickets on average, or around $645 a year.

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