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Don’t Play The Lottery [Bonus Simulator!]

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Mega MillionsWhen it comes to lotteries, Powerball gets all the attention. Whenever the jackpot gets all crazy, people get all crazy, and crazy people make bad decisions. Especially when it comes to money.

But as everyone knows… playing the lottery is a bad idea. The only way to win at the lottery is to not play at all.

It’s one thing to see the odds of winning and it’s another to simulate it and see how long it would take to win. Fortunately, this simulator does all of the hard work. Results obviously vary but it took 29,675 tickets before I “won” the $100 prize (four matching numbers). That’s two tickets a week for more than two hundred and eight five years.

It resulted in a loss of $55,190 over that span!

My luck improved as the next $100 ticket winner came on the 34,307th ticket, a mere 4632 tickets later. Cumulative losses were only 63,771. Still no win larger than a $100 though and one wouldn’t come for a while.

So I simmed until I broke through the $100 barrier and that took… I have no idea. After 700 years and 72,805 tickets, I gave up. Here’s the damage:

  • 2318 of the 72805 tickets were winners.
  • Spent $145,610 in order to win $10,946.
  • Only eight of the tickets yielded $100, the rest were the $4 and $7 variety.
  • A loss of $134,664 over 700 years.

Two interesting things from the simulation, besides the fact that the lottery is a sucker’s game:

  • From start (after like the first thousand tickets) to finish, the simulation said you can expect to see around seven to eight cents back for every dollar you spend on lottery tickets. The math says you should expect more but the sim, through tens of thousands of tickets, says 7-8 cents. That’s worse than any game in any casino.
  • This is less from the simulation and more a realization from simply math… if you win the top prize one in 175,223,510 tickets and you buy two a week then it would take you basically FOREVER before you won.

Update Sept. 10th: So I had some free time and thought I’d run the sim again… it’s currently at around 731k games, having spent $1.46 million and the biggest prize I’ve “won” is the $10,000 prize. Return is around 8 cents on/of the dollar. FAQ says that at max speed 47/7, it’ll take 20 days.

Update: Ha! I just “won” a million dollar jackpot in the 1,172,229th game after spending $2.3 million dollars. Returns just jumped to 51 cents… so I can expect to only lose half of my money. It actually won ahead of schedule. You’re supposed to win the million dollar prize once every 5.1 million games, so I should consider my-fake-lotter-player-self lucky.

That said… someone wins (usually multiple someone’s). So hats off to the recent Powerball winner in Michigan! 🙂

(Photo: booleansplit)

{ 17 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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17 Responses to “Don’t Play The Lottery [Bonus Simulator!]”

  1. Shirley says:

    My goodness, this certainly puts a before unrealized slant on playing the lottery! The simulator and seeing the money won/lost really hit home. I knew the odds before but seeing the actual figures is amazing.

  2. Matt M says:

    Someone has to win.

  3. Shorebreak says:

    That’s the hook,”Someone has to win” that keeps the poor people, who mostly play the lottery games, buying those tickets and scratch-offs every day.

  4. ChrisCD says:

    Man, that is just plain ugly. First round, 1000 plays, I picked my numbers, big loss.

    Second round, 10-years of quick picks for a loss of $2744.

    Third round, another 10-years, but switched back to my “lucky numbers”. I did score a $200 win, but had a big loss of over $5000.

    I have never felt the need to play the lottery, except for twice. Both times I only bought one ticket and the jackpot was over $100MM. But, as you probably guessed, I did not win.

  5. Sam says:

    Matt M and Shorebreak, I hate to be a party-pooper but the fact is no one HAS to win. The jackpots get rolled over (no winner), usually many times, before someone wins it.

  6. daenyll says:

    I will very occasionally (once a year or less) buy a ticket for a large jackpot, but I never expect to win anything. It’s just for the entertainment value of the what-ifs.

  7. Jim M says:

    I know someone who won twice in 9 months – she moved to Florida – haven’t seen her since…

    Like Matt M said – someone has to win.

  8. Jim B says:

    1$ buys hope, and that hope perhaps leads to happiness. I’ve spent many dollars on other things and gotten a lot less.

  9. govenar says:

    I don’t think it’s correct to say “The only way to win at the lottery is to not play at all”. If some people play and win, that’s another way.

  10. Shirley says:

    We buy one ticket if the jackpot is over 50 million. If we should happen to be winners we’d never be able to spend it all, but it would sure make a lot of kids happy. 😉

  11. Great post. Every time that I buy a ticket I tell myself that this is a tax on the stupid. Case in point my wife and some co workers pooled $90 in tickets for one of the big jackpots earlier in the year. Total “winnings” on the $90 was $29.

  12. cosmo says:

    I am indeed a long-time winner.

    I have never, NEVER, bought any lottery ticket of any kind. I am well ahead in the money department therefor.

    Morons tell me: you can’t win if you don’t play; and I respond, you can’t lose if you don’t play.

    Morons are puzzled at my logic.

    Morons keep on breeding, unfortunately.


  13. cosmo says:

    I am always ahead in this money dept.

    I never, NEVER purchased any lottery ticked whatsoever, at any time ever.

    Morons tell me: “you can’t win if you don’t play.”

    I respond: “You can’t lose if you don’t play.

    Quizzical looks from morons, as usual.

    Yet, they keep breeding.


  14. joe says:

    The lottery is a tax on people who are bad at math. Just sayin….

  15. bob says:

    It is inherent in the human experience that if you do not take a chance, you do not have a chance, but let us take a look at those who protect you from your iliteracy on that subject. The lotto is designed just for you players by those controlling operators who always benefit by protecting you from yourselves. You are allowed to take any capital that you have in your after tax possession and gamble it at the horsetrack, card parlors. irish sweepstakes, lotto, Indian Casinoes, Las Vegas, Reno, and many other purely legal licensed gambling operations and there are no limitations on your risk that you are willing to take with your capital.

  16. bob says:

    Continuing…., But you are highly restricted from investing your after tax capital in any local community company that you know and frequent because of the past 1932, 1940 and many other SEC and State corporation laws that did not protect you from Enron or Bernie Maddofs type scam enterprises . The point is that the lotto is designed to lose. The SEC and Corporatioon Commisions are designed to keep you from winning. You must be protected from yourselves.Investing in Lotto is good. Investing in a business venture is bad logic.

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