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Is it a waste of money to play the Powerball?

The Powerball lottery is one of the most popular lottery games in the United States, with jackpots that can climb into the hundreds of millions of dollars. Many people play Powerball with the dream of hitting the jackpot and becoming instantly wealthy. However, the incredibly low odds of winning raise the question – is playing the Powerball simply a waste of money?

What are the odds of winning the Powerball jackpot?

The odds of winning the Powerball jackpot are incredibly small. The chances are 1 in 292,201,338. To put this in perspective, you are more likely to:

  • Be killed by a falling vending machine (1 in 112 million)
  • Be struck by lightning (1 in 1.9 million)
  • Get injured by scissors (1 in 100,000)

Essentially, you are more likely to die in a bizarre accident than win the Powerball jackpot. The odds are stacked astronomically against players.

How much does it cost to play Powerball?

A Powerball ticket costs $2. You can pay an extra $1 for the Power Play option which multiplies non-jackpot prizes. At minimum, a Powerball ticket costs $2.

To put your odds in perspective, if you buy just 1 ticket, you have a 1 in 292 million chance of winning the jackpot. You’re probably going to need to buy hundreds of tickets to make a win feel even remotely possible.

Can you improve your odds in Powerball?

There are some strategies players use to try and improve their miniscule odds, including:

  • Buy more tickets – This increases your odds mathematically but is expensive
  • Join an office pool – Pooling money with others does the same as above
  • Pick unusual numbers – The theory is odd or non-sequential numbers are picked less
  • Mix up your numbers – Don’t play the same numbers every time, mix it up

However, there is no definitive way to actually improve your odds. Even if you spend $600 and buy 300 tickets, your odds are still a miserable 1 in 973,000. Statistically, the only way to guarantee a win is to buy every single possible Powerball combination – which would cost over $584 million.

What are the other prize levels in Powerball?

The Powerball jackpot grabs all the attention but there are 8 other prize levels in the game:

Prize Level Odds (1 in) Average Prize
Match 5 + Powerball 292 million $150 million jackpot
Match 5 11.7 million $1 million
Match 4 + Powerball 913,000 $50,000
Match 4 36,500 $100
Match 3 + Powerball 14,000 $100
Match 3 580 $7
Match 2 + Powerball 701 $7
Match 1 + Powerball 92 $4

As you can see, the lower prize tiers offer much better odds but very small prizes. The $1 million prize for matching 5 numbers (1 in 11.7 million) is the most lucrative outside the jackpot but still unlikely.

What are your overall odds of winning any Powerball prize?

When you take into account the full prize table, your overall odds of winning any Powerball prize improve to 1 in 24.9. However, the vast majority of these prizes are at the very small reward levels.

Approximately 1 in 38 Powerball tickets sold will win a nominal prize. But negligible amounts like $4 or $7 are effectively losing propositions when Powerball tickets cost $2.

Can Powerball be played responsibly?

Powerball can be played responsibly if done purely for entertainment and not with any expectation of winning. The lottery should essentially be viewed as a form of escapism, akin to going to a movie or sporting event.

As long as you are comfortable spending a few dollars for a movie ticket or ball game, playing the occasional Powerball drawing is fine entertainment. But playing with rent or grocery money is reckless and problematic.

How much money do people actually lose playing Powerball?

Americans lost an estimated $2.04 billion playing Powerball in 2020, according to lottery data:

Total Powerball Tickets Sold 499.4 million
Average Cost Per Ticket $2
Total Amount Spent $998.8 million
Total Prizes Won – $725 million
Difference (Amount Lost) $2.04 billion

On average, people lose about 40-50 cents for every $2 Powerball ticket purchased. The more you play, the more you are likely to lose over time.

Are lottery winners actually happier?

There is a common perception that winning the lottery leads to lifelong happiness and solving all of one’s problems. But studies show lottery winners are no more satisfied or happy than the average person.

One famous study looked at 22 major lottery winners. It found:

  • They were no happier than before winning
  • 3 were less happy, due to stress and guilt
  • Big wins generally led to lavish spending and debt
  • 55% reported negative effects of winning, such as legal problems
  • Most said major friendships ended post-lottery

This suggests the happiness from winning the lottery is fleeting. The initial rush wears off quickly. Furthermore, it can complicate life via added stress, guilt, reckless spending and damaged relationships.

Do people still play Powerball when the jackpot is small?

Interest and ticket sales for Powerball spike when the jackpot grows over $100 million, and especially above $500 million. For example, roughly 190 million tickets were sold for a record $1.6 billion jackpot in January 2016.

But Powerball sales are still robust when the jackpot is smaller:

Jackpot Size Tickets Sold
$20 million 8 million
$50 million 11 million
$100 million 15 million
$200 million 28 million

While a tiny $20 million jackpot generates minimal buzz, ticket volumes are still significant. This suggests many players are focused on the lower tier prizes.

Where does the money from Powerball sales go?

In 2020, total Powerball ticket sales in the U.S. were $3.36 billion. This money was distributed as follows:

Share Amount
Prizes $1.86 billion
Retailer Commissions $264 million
Operating Expenses $253 million
Transfers to Good Causes $989 million

The bulk of money (48%) from Powerball sales goes back into prize funds. A further 29% funds government programs and projects in each participating state. This includes education, pensions, cultural programs and everything in between.

Only about 8% goes towards lottery operating expenses and marketing. The lottery is highly profitable for state governments.

Do more educated people play the lottery?

There is a perception that playing the lottery is for poor and uneducated people. But statistics show lottery play does not heavily skew towards any income or education demographic.

Research from a Gallup national survey showed:

Education Play Powerball
No high school diploma 31%
High school diploma 33%
Some college 38%
College graduate 28%

While Powerball penetration peaks among those with some college education, participation is evenly spread. Importantly, those with and without degrees play at similar rates. Education level has minimal impact on playing.

Do lower-income groups spend more on the lottery?

There is a conception that those with lower incomes disproportionately buy more lottery tickets. Data shows this is untrue – lottery spending is similar across income groups:

Income Average Yearly Lottery Spend
Under $25k $178
$25k – $35k $168
$35k – $50k $210
$50k – $75k $233
Over $75k $195

There are minimal differences across income levels. While not a large outlay, those earning under $25k actually spend slightly more than wealthier demographics. Lottery spending cuts evenly across the income spectrum.

Do stores that sell winning tickets see sales spikes?

When a major jackpot is won, the specific store location that sold the winning ticket experiences a massive short-term sales boom. This is due to the widespread superstition that lightning can strike twice.

When a California store sold a $447 million Powerball ticket in 2018, they immediately saw daily sales rocket from $2,000 to $26,000. A Wisconsin retailer that sold a $768 million Powerball ticket in 2019 saw a similar tenfold sales spike.

This sales surge is irrational because every Powerball combination has equal odds, regardless of store location. But the publicity effect can be long-lasting for a lucky vendor.

Do more lottery tickets sell when the economy is weak?

It is a myth that lottery sales significantly increase when the economy falters. There is no strong correlation between Powerball sales and real GDP growth:

Year Real GDP Growth Powerball Sales
2015 2.9% $3.2 billion
2016 1.6% $3.3 billion
2017 2.4% $3.4 billion
2018 3.0% $3.0 billion
2019 2.2% $3.3 billion

Powerball sales remained stable between $3-3.4 billion over this period, despite GDP swinging between 1.6% and 3%. Lottery sales are not substantially impacted by economic conditions.

Do Quick Draw daily games cannibalize Powerball sales?

Most states have supplemented Powerball with Quick Draw-style lottery games. These allow players to bet on a new drawing every few minutes.

There was initially concern that Quick Draw would divert spending away from Powerball. However, analysis shows the two games have minimal impact on each other:

  • Launch of Quick Draw does not reduce Powerball participation
  • Quick Draw generates sizable new lottery revenue, rather than redistributing existing spending
  • The two games attract somewhat different demographics
  • Powerball is still the biggest draw during large jackpot runs

Rather than competing, Quick Draw and Powerball appear complementary. Quick Draw gives impatient lottery players an outlet during periods when the Powerball jackpot is low.

How do other national lotteries compare to Powerball?

Powerball stacks up favorably to other national lottery games in terms of sales and prizes:

Lottery Tickets Sold Prizes
Powerball (USA) 499 million $2.6 billion
Mega Millions (USA) 428 million $1.5 billion
EuroMillions (Multi-national) 234 million €2.5 billion
SuperEnalotto (Italy) 204 million €1.5 billion

Powerball sells the most tickets and awards the biggest prizes globally. MegaMillions is its closest competitor, while EuroMillions and SuperEnalotto trail significantly. The American lotteries dominate globally.


Playing the Powerball lottery is extremely unlikely to win you riches, with microscopic odds of 1 in 292 million of hitting the jackpot. For most, playing is effectively just burning money.

While Powerball can be played responsibly for entertainment in moderation, for many it leads to significant accumulative losses over time. Dreams of the glamorous “Powerball lifestyle” are almost certain to never occur.

For nearly every player, Powerball is ultimately a waste of hard-earned money. The lottery thrives because people drastically overestimate their slim odds and are enticed by the allure of instant wealth and luxury. In reality, you are overwhelmingly more likely to be struck by lightning than to win Powerball.