Financial expert debunks myths on how to win Powerball

Bargain Hunting is all about efficiently spending the money you have in order to purchase the things you need (or want!).

But with Powerball at more than $500 million, everyone — even savvy shoppers — seems to have lottery ticket mania. Spending a few bucks for a chance to win big is not big deal, but before you drop a mint trying to maximize your 1 in 175,223,510 chance of winning, consider that some of the information out there on how to improve your odds is a load of hooey!

Stacy Johnson, founder of takes issue with media outlets from Fox News to the Today Show that have featured Richard Lustig, a guy who claims he has the tricks to help you improve your odds.

Johnson interviewed Lustig months ago and feels that anyone practicing real journalism would poke holes in Lustig’s theories. So Johnson adds a little common sense to all the hype with his ways to not win the Powerball lottery:

Lustig says: You should never play quick picks.

Johnson rebuts: According to the Powerball website, the odds of winning the jackpot are 1 in 175,223,510. You win by picking six random numbers. What difference could it possibly make whether you pick them or a computer does? Answer: none whatsoever.

Lustig says: You should always play the same set of numbers

Johnson rebuts: As Lustig told me when I interviewed him, his logic is that once a number wins, it can’t come up again. Therefore you keep playing the same set of numbers until it wins, then discard it. The problem with this argument? It’s hogwash. Lotteries don’t retire winning numbers. Therefore the odds of the same numbers coming up again are the same as the odds of any other set of random numbers coming up: 1 in 175,223,510.

Lustig says: Pool money with a large group of people to increase your chances

Johnson rebuts: If you buy one ticket, you have 1 chance in 175,223,510 to win. If you pool your bet with nine other people, you have 10 chances in 175,223,510. And if you win, you’ll split the pot 10 ways. Which obviously means you’ll win the same amount either way; pooling your bet has no effect.

Here’s another piece of common sense — Lustig is reported to have won the lottery seven times — but clearly he’s found other ways to make money!

Are you playing Powerball? What is your strategy and how much would you spend for a chance to win?

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– Nedra Rhone, for the Atlanta Bargain Hunter blog

20 comments Add your comment


November 28th, 2012
1:37 pm

I’m more inclined to believe the person that has won the lottery 7 times, however Johnson makes some good points.


November 28th, 2012
2:04 pm

should’ve seen the nightline segment last night with the statistician

Hide N Seek

November 28th, 2012
2:14 pm

I wonder how much money Mr. Lustig has spent to earn (?) his winnings!


November 28th, 2012
2:22 pm

Seems to me he confirms that pooling your money would increase your chances. Less payoff, increased chances.

Chris R

November 28th, 2012
2:56 pm

KT, I understand your inclination to believe the guy that has won the lottery 7 times but what does it mean that he “won” seven times? Does this mean he won the jackpot or just won a prize of any size? And which lotteries has he won? If he’s counting the daily number it’s not hard to win multiple times if you play enough. In any case, his idea that you should play the same number over and over again isn’t based in any sort of statistical truth or by laws of the game. Lotteries do not retire numbers. If they did then the set of numbers they use to pick the winning numbers would continually get smaller. For example, if “40″ was in a winning powerball set they’d have to remove the “40″ ball. You don’t see them doing that do you? Remember, in powerball (and any of these types of lotteries) there isn’t a single winning number but a set of numbers ( its 5, 17, 23, 37, 43, 47 and 13 not 5,172,337,434,713). So do you understand why his first bit of advice is completely wrong?


November 28th, 2012
3:22 pm

Are you people really that stupid to think Lustig’s comment about retiring the number. He is referring to the set of winning numbers. Look at the history and you will not find the same winning numbers repeated. Of course you can’t retire the actual number, duh. There would be no lottery if they did that. It makes perfect sense to play the same set of numbers over and over. If it hits, yes, stop playing those numbers and pick a different set. Law of statics of those numbers winning are greater than 1:175 million.

Brian Wallace

November 28th, 2012
3:44 pm

MF, You’re an idiot. Study some math and come back to me. If you play the same number 100 times in a row and I play a different number for the next 100 times, we both have the exact same chance of winning. Let me dumb it down for you. Suppose the lottery only used three numbers: 1, 2, 3. You pick 2 every day until it wins. One day, 2 is picked. Do you start playing 1 or 3 because they have a “better chance” of being selected now? No. The odds are the same for 1, 2 or 3. The game doesn’t “remember” a sequence of numbers has already been chosed. If tonights numbers are 3, 17, 24, 27, 43 and PB, 20, the odds are the SAME that 3, 17, 24, 27, 43 and PB, 20 will be chosen for the NEXT Powerball drawing as ANY OTHER combination. You asked: “Are you people really that stupid?” Yes. They are. You are an example.


November 28th, 2012
4:21 pm

The only real “strategy”, if you can call it that, is to pick high numbers, as people who pick their own numbers tend towards the lower range (birthdays, etc), so if you do win, you’re more likely to not have to share the jackpot.


November 28th, 2012
4:21 pm

MF, you really need to brush up on elementary statistics before you make an absurd and incorrect claim on the law of statistics. I actually busted out laughing when I read what you wrote about the chances being greater than 1:175 million. LOL, you are such a fool.


November 28th, 2012
4:44 pm

well, what if you had $175,223,510 to “invest”? at this rate you could triple or at least net double your money, no? Unless of course by coincidence you have to split the winnings with another winner!!!

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KJ is right

November 28th, 2012
7:32 pm

Your odds are the exact same to win 3,5,13,44,57, PB 15 as they are to win with 1,2,3,4,5,PB 6. If it seems unlikely that those numbers would win, you’re right. The odds are 175 million to one. Just as they are for the first sequence. The main thing to worry is splitting with others, so picking numbers more unlikely to be picked by others (over 12 especially, and over 31 also–to avoid month and days for birthdays) is a decent strategy to avoid splitting the take with others. And if you want to win a bunch of money, split with 100 people if you can–you will have a 1 in 1.75 million chance of winning 5 million bucks…rather than a 1 in 175 mil of winning 5 million. Both will set you up for life…


November 28th, 2012
7:43 pm

if you flip a coin it is 50/50 chance that heads will come up. flip the coin, tails comes up. on the next flip it will still be 50/50 heads will come up. if tails comes up 99 out of 99 flips, it’s still a 50/50 shot that heads will come up on the 100th try. odds don’t change, casinos know that. they don’t build million dollar buildings on retired numbers. i would venture that the idea of retiring a set of numbers makes sense with the logic of expecting a coin to always come out to 50/50 when flipped. if it was that simple, why not look at all of the winning numbers and not play any of those, you would be guaranteed to win, oh wait, maybe you should play all of the numbers that have won in the past, because those are HOT!! no matter you better win this thing soon, the world will end on 12/21/12 LOL


November 28th, 2012
7:50 pm

wait, i just thought of another thing. what are the chances that 2 tickets will have the same set of numbers? would that be 350,447,020, double the chances of normal??


November 29th, 2012
9:04 pm

Some of the “PROUD egotistical statisticians irritate me on Principle.

Above one Claimed Guru gave the if you had 3 numbers and played two – when it Lustig says stop playing it. There are some facts you WHIZzzzzzzzzzzz’s should look at.

Put all the numbers for any Lottery game in a spreadsheet and do a Sort. Tell me what the results are? How evenly are the numbers distributed? According to your egotistical demented whacked out expertise they should all come up about the same number of times.

I will bet none of you will provide the correct answer!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I am speaking about Little Lotto, Lotto, Mega Millions and PowerBall.

When you do a sort the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 are the most frequently drawn number by 50%
In other words 50 % of the number drawn have 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 as the first number. That ratio is the same for any of the games.

So in ten years of recorded drawings the ratio is the same. That means if your numbers have a 1, 2, 3,4, 5 as the first number you have a slightly better chance of winning.

Secondly when you do the sort you will also see (to my knowledge) there has never been a duplicate number 5 or six numbers drawn. That’s because the pool of number choices is so large.


November 30th, 2012
11:30 am

Casinos love guys like Cyborg because they think they can win at Roulette by looking at the display of the last twenty numbers the ball landed on.


November 30th, 2012
12:28 pm

Cyborg, actually that has happened: Now if ahead of time you said that “yes, the next to drawings will be identical” that would be worse odds. But after Drawing #1, then the odds of Drawing #2 being the same are the exact same odds as any other set of numbers. After you flip a coin once and it comes up heads, would you be correct in saying that “it has to be tails this time, the odds are worse of being heads again”? No you wouldn’t.


November 30th, 2012
6:14 pm

The odds are what they are. These are completely independent events. Just as the coin has no memory of whether it landed “heads” or “tails” when last flipped, the balls don’t remember what numbers came up and there is no strategy for picking numbers that can increase your odds of winning. No amount of people playing or not playing change your odds.

And even though in this drawing the expected value of a ticket was positive, it’s time to go with the odds – which are, by all pragmatism, impossible.

As I say to people, if you would never play 1,2,3,4,5,6 then don’t play the lottery. Simpler, don’t play the lottery.


November 30th, 2012
6:19 pm

Oh, and Johnson’s last rebut is a bit disingenuous. If you play multiple numbers, yes your odds increase (to 2 out of…3 out of…same denominator). Johnson is actually arguing that the expected value of the strategies are the same. But…as far as odds, yeah, that would increase by definition.

The best lesson is to compare the odds of winning to other rare events. That’s an eye-opener if you need one.


December 1st, 2012
6:25 am

Cyborg, your comment makes no sense. If you’re looking at the first number on a list of winners, obviously 1 will show up more – because the data you’re talking about is put in numerical order. Any time 1 is drawn, it is the first number numerically, so it would, by default, end up as the first number numerically. The number “43″, say, is much less likely to be the lowest number in a set, because that requires that every other number drawn be greater than 43.

For example, look at the following sets of numbers:
1, 12, 17, 29, 43
15, 19, 29, 37, 41
3, 5, 11, 45, 51
1, 8, 29, 31, 36
18, 29, 44, 45, 56

1 shows up twice as the first number – because, again, instead of looking at how often a number’s drawn, you’re for some reason looking at how often it’s the “first number” numerically. Yet the number 29 shows up four times – never in the first position, but it’s still drawn twice as often as the number 1.