Lottery Ad Ignores Math

Recently ads for PowerBall have appeared around Arkansas, saying, “Someone’s Gonna Win, Why Not You?” But there’s a problem with the ad: There’s no guarantee “someone’s gonna win” a prize playing PoweBall.

Mathematically, the odds of winning the PowerBall jackpot are approximately 1 in 292.2 million. The odds of winning some sort of prize–such as a $4 payout–are roughly 1 in 25.

That means if 25 people each bought a PowerBall ticket, statistically speaking, one of them likely would win some sort of prize. However, there is no guarantee anyone will win; with a lottery like PowerBall, all 25 players could pick the very same losing numbers.

That’s because PowerBall’s winning numbers are all chosen at random. PowerBall isn’t like a raffle, where winning tickets are drawn from a hat based on the tickets sold. Raffles guarantee a winner; lotteries do not. That’s why PowerBall jackpots can grow to the levels we saw earlier this year: When people don’t win prizes playing PowerBall, the prize money has time to grow. While unlikely, it’s mathematically possible no one will ever win at PowerBall again.

Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan once said, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.” With the lottery, the facts cannot be ignored: There simply is no guarantee that “someone’s gonna win.”