Powerball is a game of chance, and despite the more than half-billion tickets out there, there’s still a chance that no one will walk away with the $1.5 billion jackpot in tonight’s drawing.
How big a possibility? More than one in seven, says Victor Matheson, professor of economics and accounting at the College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts. If everyone’s ticket included only randomly-selected numbers, then there is a 15.2 percent chance that the winning combination won’t appear on the estimated 550 million tickets that will have been sold for the drawing.
The actual possibility of no winner is even higher than that, Matheson says, because people who choose their own numbers don’t select random ones. (Powerball allows people to select their own numbers or have a computer pick their numbers, which is considered random.)
“People will disproportionately choose numbers 31 and under because they choose birthdays, anniversaries, or ages of their kids,” he says. Or, they pick combinations with lucky numbers, which often are lower numbers.
“There aren’t many lucky numbers that are 47,” he says. “We know from experience that hundreds of people pick 7-14-21-28-35.”
That means other, mostly higher numbers won’t be chosen at the same rate as the lower ones. A Powerball winning combo with those less frequently picked numbers would increase the likelihood of having no winners.
To lower the odds of a no-winner drawing to one in 20 (or 5 percent), 875 million tickets would have to be sold, Matheson calculated. How many tickets would guarantee a winner?
“An infinite number,” says Matheson. But even that wouldn’t change your odds of winning tonight’s Powerball. That chance remains at 1 in 292,201,338, no matter how many tickets are sold.