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Your Incredibly Dismal Odds of Winning the Powerball Jackpot

Calculate the universe-ending time and epic cost of winning with your lotto numbers.

Say you bought one $2 lotto ticket every Wednesday and Saturday—how long might it take before you strike the Powerball jackpot, which at $1.5 billion is now the biggest potential payout in history?

In my case it’d be 6.2 million years, at a personal cost of $1.3 billion, according to Brad Lyon. The Knoxville software developer has created a nifty simulation allowing you to enter your treasured six numbers and click a “When Will I Win?” box, setting off a ticker that goes on … and on … and on until your lucky day arrives or your cold body is lowered into the grave, whichever comes first.

Your own results will vary—on a second try I got 3.8 million years—but what won’t is the win being some dream-crushing date on the outskirts of the future. For additional pain, Lyon lets the simulator mention days (shown as yellow bars) when you almost, but not quite, snagged the jackpot; for instance, “All but powerball number hit on Wednesday, September 1st, in the year 1,354,979 A.D.”

To stress the gargantuan time spans involved, he’s added historical milestones (green bars) such as “Earliest example of abstract art or symbolic art from Blombos cave, South Africa” (70,000 B.C.) and “The Sahara desert region is wet and fertile” (50,000 B.C.).

Brad Lyon

As to why he built this depressing thing, Lyon emails:

What inspired me was an interest in exploring how to convey how small these odds are of winning. … It usually doesn’t take long before you are in the future several times the length of time back to when Homo sapiens is thought to have come out of Africa. A lot has progressed in the last 200,000 years ... and your winning ticket is typically far past that in the future.

A couple notes: The simulator does not take into account smaller, non-jackpot wins you might snare over time. Lyon says he might add that feature later. And if you load the program on mobile devices it might take forever, because “they just flat out don’t have the CPU horsepower” to run it, so click “QuickCalc” for an instant reading based purely on the odds of winning.

So does the man trying to drop a cargo ship-load of buzzkill on Powerball fans think they’re all chumps? Maybe not. “I bought a ticket anyway,” he says.

Alan Diaz/AP

About the Author

  • John Metcalfe
    John Metcalfe is CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, based in Oakland. His coverage focuses on climate change and the science of cities.