The Mega Millions multi-state lottery has hit an estimated jackpot of over $1.35 billion, making the upcoming drawing the fourth biggest lottery prize in U.S. history.
But huge prizes come with tiny odds. A player who buys a single ticket for the Friday January 13th Mega Millions only has a 1 in 302,575,350 chance of winning the jackpot. 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.
The last Mega Millions jackpot was won on October 14, with a $502 million ($252.0 million cash) pot shared by tickets sold in San Jose, California, and Fort Myers, Florida. In the three months since, the jackpot prize has skyrocketed. After Tuesday’s $1.1 million prize again went unclaimed, the Mega Millions jackpot rose by $250 million dollars, depending on how the player wants to get paid.
The Friday, January 13 2023 jackpot is $1.35 billion for those winners that choose to receive an annuity, which will be paid out over 30 years. But nearly all winners choose to receive a one-time lump sum payment instead of waiting. The cash option for Friday’s drawing is worth an estimated $707.9 million.
All this assumes you are the only winner of the jackpot. Huge lottery prizes like this one attract a lot more players who buy a lot more tickets, and the top prize is often shared between multiple people who happened to pick the same numbers. Should that happen, the jackpot is divided equally by the number of winning tickets.
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 “Mega Ball” out of a pool of 25.
According to U.S.A Mega, the five numbers that came up the most in Mega Millions drawings over the last seven years are 14 (drawn 52 times), 17 (51 times), 10 and 31 and 38 (all drawn 38 times). The most common Mega Ball was 22 (drawn 32 times), followed by 11 (28 times), 9 (27 times), and 10 and 18 and 24 (all 25 times). The least commonly drawn numbers are 49 and 51 (both drawn 25 times) and the least common Mega Balls are 7 and 8 (16 times).
Of course, that’s just based on 543 drawings since October 31, 2017. 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. Shying away from those numbers doesn’t improve your chances of winning the lottery, but it does give you a very slightly improved chance to take home the top prize all by yourself. So statistically, it’s better to choose uncommon 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?
For the record, your best bet is to choose completely random numbers, or let the Mega Millions machine choose them for you.
Another small hack suggested by Gizmodo reader XPDNC in the comments to this very story: If you buy multiple tickets, make sure there’s a different Mega Ball number on each one. A Mega Ball match is the most common way to get any payout amount, so having different Mega Ball numbers on all your tickets improves your chances of winning at least a little cash.
Lottery is a game of chance and probability, so the best way to increase your odds of winning, assuming you’re getting random numbers, is to buy more tickets. If you have a 1 in 300 million chance of winning, buying a second ticket doubles your odds to 2 in 300 million, another to 3 in 300 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. Even if you spent a million dollars buying $2 Mega Millions tickets this Friday, the odds would still be overwhelmingly against you.
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.
There are 45 states that participate in the Mega Millions lottery, and it’s also available in Washington, D.C. and the Virgin Islands. But every state has not had a jackpot winner.
Since the game started in 2022, players in only 26 of those 47 locations have won the Mega Millions jackpot, according to Jackpocket, a third party lottery app that allows users to order tickets on their phone. New York has been the luckiest, with 40 jackpots won, followed by California with 32, 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. For one thing, some states entered the multi-state pool later than others: Mississippi, for example, only started selling Mega Millions tickets in January of 2020, so it’s no surprise that it’s never had a winner.
But more importantly: In all things lottery, you can’t escape math. 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.
There is, however, one factor which might actually make it a good idea to play Mega Millions in one state versus another: Local rules about whether or not the winner can stay anonymous. In places like Illinois and Kansas, winners can request that the lottery board keep their identity secret. In states like New York, you can expect your name to be released to the media —meaning everyone in the world now knows you’re a multi-billionaire.
Wait, you still want to play? Mega Millions drawings are held every Tuesday and Friday at 11:00 p.m. ET. Good luck!