You’re An Idiot If You Didn’t Play Powerball, Explained

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A mansion in the Caribbean. Exotic cars and private jets. Your favorite band playing your birthday party. Those things will remain nothing more than a dream. For one person each in California, Florida and Tennessee, the bucket list items are going to get checked off at breakneck speed.

Many people self-proclaimed superior intelligence for not playing Powerball this week. Those people are idiots.

By now you have read or watched a dozen news reports comparing the odds of winning the Powerball to random, unlikely events. For example, according to Forbes, you are more likely to

  • Date a millionaire (1 in 215)
  • Write a best-selling novel (1 in 220)
  • Win an Oscar (1 in 11,500)
  • Win an Olympic gold medal (1 in 662,000)\
  • Become President (1 in 10,000,000)
  • Become a saint (1 in 20,000,000)

I’ll address those bullshit stats in a second. First, here’s all you need to know about Wednesday’s Powerball drawing: eight quarters to win a BILLION dollars. That’s it. No further context needed.

There are a lot people who won’t play the lottery unless it reaches astronomical levels. I usually scoff at these people, because the difference between $40 million and $200 million is the size of your yacht and the quality of the cocaine you’ll be snorting off of the asses of aspiring supermodels on said yacht (or actual supermodels if the jackpot is high enough). Four dollars a week for that kind of money is reasonable (I’ll address the odds shortly).

But if we’re going to argue odds versus total jackpot, then no one had an excuse to sit out during the $1.5 billion prize. A poker player will tell you why: pot odds.

“Pot odds” in poker is the size of the pot versus the cost to call while also factoring the odds of winning the hand. For example, if a pot is at $100 and it’s $20 to call, the bet ratio is 100:20, or 5:1. If after assessing your hand, the odds of picking up your winning card are greater than 5:1, you call. Essentially, the minimal cost of a relatively large pot offsets the odds of losing. You probably won’t pick up that ace, but every professional poker play will chase it if all they have to pay is $10 for a $1,000 pot.

The odds of winning Powerball is 1 in 292,201,33. Since Powerball is $2, we can change that to roughly 2 in 600,000,000. Playing pot odds, the lottery is not worth playing unless it’s over $600 million. Your odds of “picking up that ace” will offset the “cost to call”/”total pot” ratio if it’s anything less. This is a good reason to never play Powerball, since it never reaches that high. But it did, and $2 to win $1.5 billion with 1:300 million odds are actually really good.

If you don’t think Wednesday’s pot was the exception, I’m never taking you to the casino.

Back to those wacky odds mentioned by Forbes.

In order to win Powerball, you choose numbers, pay $2 and pray to your spiritual overlord that he or she is stronger than other people’s overlord. There are no other qualifications or uncontrollable external forces to squash that dream. Becoming president, dating a millionaire or winning an Oscar all require a variety of factors to fall into place in addition to luck.

For example, the odds of an extremely attractive woman marrying a millionaire are exponentially greater than mine. Any blue blood American is far more likely to become president than anyone born into poverty. Winning an Oscar would require supreme acting skills, getting discovered, landing the right gig, etc. Winning the lottery? Two dollars.

Rich, poor, black, white, attractive, ugly, willingness to blow someone for advantage, prude. Doesn’t matter. Everyone pays $2, and that’s it.

We are not all born equal. Some people have the correct brain chemistry and environment that makes them susceptible to success. Others don’t. Some of us have the ability to be doctors, lawyers, etc. Some of us are limited to what we can achieve. For many, the odds of achieving financial security and a comfortable lifestyle ourselves is equal to or less than winning the lottery, real or perceived.

A little science backs up that claim.

A study titled “Gambling on the lottery: sociodemographic correlates across the lifespan” reveals that the number of people playing the lottery dramatically spikes in the mid-20s age range and consistently increases throughout 30s age range. Specifically, 70 percent of those ages 22-29 and 71 percent ages 30-39 play the lottery. This is the prime age to discover that you’re not going to be a rock star or Wall Street executive. This is the age range when many of us realize that financial security seems out of reach.

Occurrences of playing the lottery taper off once people reach their 50s.  Ages 40-49 dips to 69 percent and steadily declines from there. I assume this is because either a) people actually reach financial security and don’t need the Powerball pipedream OR b) we’ve given up on life and said “fuck it.”

Bottom line: The odds of winning the lottery relative to other big events are better than you think. Chasing a pipedream for $4 a week is justifiable for many jaded individuals. Once that jackpot hits $600 million or more, not even your odds argument is valid.

You’re an idiot if you didn’t buy a ticket on Wednesday.

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