How to boost your horrible odds of winning the Powerball

It's not easy to beat astronomical odds like those involved in the US $1.5-billion Powerball, but a repeat lottery winner says there's a way you can improve your chances to win Wednesday night's draw.

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No, you don't need to pray, maim a rabbit or steal a horse's footwear. The real secret is to not be too sentimental with your number choices, according to Richard Lustig, author of "Learn to Increase Your Chances of Winning the Lottery."

Lustig, who claims to have won seven lottery grand prizes, says many people make the mistake of playing numbers based on sentimental calendar dates, like birthdays or anniversaries. This strategy limits your potential number range to 1-31, in a Powerball draw that uses numbers 1-69.

"In Powerball, you have to pick five numbers from 1-69," Lustig told CTV News Channel on Wednesday. "So (calendar number players) are not even playing numbers 32 through 69, so they're actually decreasing their chances of winning."

Lustig said the best way to approach the Powerball draw – particularly for Canadians who are buying tickets south of the border – is to select a wide range of numbers.

"Spread it out over the spectrum of numbers you have to choose from," Lustig said.

In Lustig's book, he outlines several strategies to improve your lottery-winning chances over the long-term. His top three tips are:

  1. Don't buy lottery "quick picks"
  2. Always play the same numbers (because last week's winning numbers are less likely to be drawn again)
  3. Play consistently

Lustig says he's won "millions" using his method, but he cautions that even if you win, it's very easy to spend all your winnings and be left with nothing. "I don't care how much you win, that money can run out," he said.

Lustig advises any lottery winner to pay off all debts first, invest in a good accountant or financial planner second, and then have fun with the money, once those two things are taken care of.

For Lustig, that "fun" means not working, and doing the things he loves. "I play the lottery and have fun," he said. "Watch TV, play video games."

You still don't stand a chance

But while Lustig may make lottery-winning sound easy, statistics professor Jeremy Rosenthal says it's not even worth buying a ticket.

In fact, Rosenthal says the odds of your winning the Powerball are so astronomically high, you've got a better chance of dying in a plane crash, being struck by lightning or being elected prime minister.

"It's just unbelievably unlikely that you're going to win," Rosenthal told CTV News Channel.

Rosenthal points out that there are about 292 million possible number combinations that can come up in tonight's draw, making the Powerball about 20 times more difficult to win than Canada's Lotto 6/49.

Rosenthal says that when it comes to Lotto 6/49, "It's so unlikely to win, you shouldn't even buy a ticket." But with the Powerball, that advice is even more apt, he says.

"I know the probability so well that I don't even have any reason to hope," said Rosenthal, who has not bought a ticket for the jackpot.

He also shot down the notion that somebody, somewhere has to win, and that person could be you.

"It's not true that somebody's got to win, because it could be nobody wins and the jackpot rolls over," he pointed out.

That was the case last week with the Powerball. And if tonight's draw does not produce a winner, the money will again roll over to another round, until it is won.

"At some point, somebody will win, and yes, it could be you," Rosenthal admitted. "But as a probability person, you have to think: well, not just 'could,' but what are the odds?"

One in 292,000,000, apparently.



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