Tonight’s drawing in the Mega Millions multi-state lottery has an estimated jackpot of $1.1 billion. It’s only the third time in the game’s 20-year history that the jackpot has surpassed a billion dollars (or $648.2 million, if you take the cash option). A player who buys a single ticket with randomly selected numbers only has a 1 in 302,575,350 chance of winning all that money. You’re way more likely to get hit by lightning.
But if you still want to play, there’s a few things you should know that can improve —or worsen—your chances.
A lot of people have a lucky number or a date they like to use when playing the lottery. But has that number historically shown up in drawings?
The Mega Millions lottery winner is chosen by randomly selecting five white balls with numbers on them out of a pool of 70 numbered balls, and then a gold-colored “MegaBall” out of a pool of 50. According to U.S.A Mega, the five numbers that came up the most in Mega Millions drawings over the last five years are 17 (drawn 48 times), 10 (47 times) 14 (47 times), 31 (47 times), and 4 and 7 (both drawn 44 times). The most common mega ball was 22 (drawn 28 times), followed by 11 (26 times), and 24 (25 times).
Of course, that’s just over the last five years: Given a longer time period and a bigger data sample, every single number should be chosen the same number of times; the whole point of randomly selecting balls is to average out differences over time.
Still, you might be inclined to pick one of those numbers, or to choose another “lucky” option. But think twice before you do. If other people choose the same numbers as you, you’ll have to share the jackpot with them—and people are more likely to choose a “lucky” number like 7, or a number between 1 and 31 because it represents a birthday. To get a slightly improved chance to take home the prize all by yourself, choose uncommon or ‘unusual’ numbers.
Then again, if everyone picks “unusual” numbers for this very reason, those numbers are going to be more likely to be shared, so it’ll actually be better to chose a “usual” number. See how hard it is to hack this system?
Some states are luckier than others. Since the game has started, players in 26 states have won the Mega Million jackpot, according to Jackpocket, a third party lottery app that allows users to buy tickets on their phone. New York has been the luckiest, with 40 jackpots won, followed by California with 33, and New Jersey with 22. It would seem that being from one of these states means you have a higher probability of winning, right?
Wrong. All those people in those states were lucky, but not because they had a higher probability of winning: People in populous states like New York, New Jersey and California win more often because they have more people playing. Your odds don’t change based on where you buy the ticket.
Lottery is a game of chance and probability, so the best way to increase your odds of winning is to buy more tickets. If you have a 1 in 303 million chance of winning, buying a second ticket doubles your odds to 2 in 303 million, another to 3 in 303 million, and so on.
Of course, while you’re improving your odds, your chances of taking home a billion dollars are still infinitesimal. In order to improve your odds in a really substantial way, you’d have to spend a huge amount of money... and even if you spend a million dollars on tickets, you’re still most likely to lose.
So play your lucky number, play an uncommon number, play your birth date, whatever. Buy one ticket or buy twenty. It doesn’t really matter.