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You can guarantee winning the $1.3 billion Powerball jackpot — but you’ll need an army

One ticket is the difference between having a 1-in-292,201,338 chance of winning the now-$1.3 billion jackpot — or absolutely no chance.

However, the one-ticket, one-draw strategy makes no sense if you have millions and millions of dollars to spend.

That’s because there is a way to 100% guarantee you will hit the jackpot: Buy enough tickets to cover every possible number combination before a drawing.

Powerball recently changed its drawing setup. These days, a machine sucks up five white balls from a bin of 69 balls, each with a different number. It also sucks up one red Powerball from a bin of 26 different balls.

To take home the jackpot, your ticket must have the same five white numbers — order doesn’t matter — and the one red number.

If you do the math, there are 11,238,513 possible combinations of five white balls (without order mattering). Multiply that by the 26 possible red balls, and you get 292,201,338 possible Powerball number combinations.

At $2 per ticket, you’d need $584,402,676 to buy every single combination and guarantee a win.

But think this out for a moment.

The Powerball draws only twice a week: Every Wednesday and Saturday. So how are you going to print that many tickets in less than four days? Even if you can cram multiple picks onto one ticket? And just how do you plan to ensure each combination is different?

You’d need an army of trustworthy people at thousands of locations across the country, sucking the Powerball ticket-printing machines dry. You’d need state, regional, and local coordinators to keep everything streamlined, and good technology to verify every number requested is different. Plus scary-sounding contracts to make sure none of your workers walk off with your winnings.

Even then you’re not guaranteed to win the current estimated $1.3 billion jackpot (before taxes, that is).

You have to weigh the risk that one or more other people got the winning combination for that draw, too — forcing the lottery commission to split up the jackpot. Even though you’re raising the jackpot by buying so many tickets, one (very likely) fluke could leave you in the red.

At the end of the day, buying out the lottery isn’t practical. But buying just one ticket, especially now, does make economic sense.

You'll need an army. And you'd better trust that army, too.

How Many Lottery Combinations Do You Need to Guarantee a Jackpot?

There’s a Surefire Way to Win a Jackpot. But Is It Worth It?

You know that the odds of winning a lottery jackpot are sky-high, right? Well, that’s only kind of true. There are a limited number of possible winning numbers, so the odds of hitting a jackpot can be 100% if you buy enough lottery combinations. But how many ticket combinations would you have to buy? How much would you have to invest to do it? And would your investment be worthwhile?

The (Only) Guaranteed Way to Win a Powerball or Mega Millions Jackpot

Lotteries like Powerball or Mega Millions differ from sweepstakes because the winner isn’t randomly drawn from all of the qualified entries. Instead, entrants play by buying a ticket with a combination of numbers, and one of those combinations is drawn as the jackpot winner.

That means that the chances of winning are fixed and that they aren’t influenced by how many people buy tickets. Because there are a fixed number of lottery combinations, a very determined entrant with enough money at their disposal could buy every single possible combination and guarantee a jackpot win.

Take the Powerball lottery, for example. To win the jackpot, you need to have a lottery ticket with the correct combination of five white balls and the red Powerball. There are 69 possible numbers for the white balls and 26 possible results for the Powerball. Thus, the odds of picking that perfect combination with a single ticket are one in 292,201,338.

Each Powerball ticket costs $2. That means you could buy all the possible combinations of tickets for $584,402,676.

You can also guarantee a jackpot win for Mega Millions. For Mega Millions, you need to have a lottery ticket with the correct combination of five white balls and the Mega Ball. The five white balls have possible numbers ranging between 1 and 70, while the Mega Ball can be between 1 and 25. That means you need to cover 302,575,350 combinations to guarantee a jackpot.

Mega Millions tickets cost $2 each so covering all combinations would cost $605,150,700. In some regions, you can also buy a “jackpot only” ticket that covers two combinations for $3. That means that if you want to guarantee a jackpot for the lowest possible investment, you could do it for “only” $453,863,025.

Given that some of the largest lottery jackpots can reach a billion dollars or more, that doesn’t seem like such a bad deal, right? But of course, it’s not that easy.

Does It Make Sense to Buy All Possible Lottery Combinations?

While covering all of the possible combinations takes an astounding of money, some of the biggest lottery jackpots have advertised jackpots that outstrip what you’d need to pay to win them. Powerball’s biggest jackpot to date was advertised at $1.5 billion. Tripling your investment on a guaranteed jackpot sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?

The problem is that, while you can guarantee a jackpot win, you can’t guarantee that you will end up with a profit. Even with an advertised jackpot bigger than the amount you’d have to invest, there are costs that will eat into your earnings.

First of all, you might have to split the jackpot with other winners. In the case of Powerball’s $1.5 billion jackpot, there were three winning tickets. That means even the simple math of $1.5 billion divided by three winning tickets would have brought the value of the prize below the $584,402,676 in ticket combinations you would’ve had to pay to guarantee the win.

But you have to do more than simple math to find out what you will net when you win the lottery. For one thing, you have to pay taxes on those winnings. You can expect to pay at least 25% in federal taxes on your prize, and you might be responsible for state taxes on your jackpot as well, Depending on the state you live in, that could add up to another 8.82% that you need to pay to the government.

Next, you’d have to consider whether you’ll take the lump-sum or annuity payout. You’ll only get the full advertised amount of the jackpot if you take the annuity option, but that means that you will have to wait 30 years until you see your return on investment. There are many other ways to invest half a million dollars that could be more profitable and offer more liquidity.

If you take the lump-sum payout, you’ll receive significantly less money. In the case of the $1.5 billion Powerball jackpot, each of the three winners took the lump sum and received $327.8 million instead of $500 million.

So far, the largest jackpot won by a single person was a $758.7 million dollar Powerball jackpot. Even then, the winner only walked away with $336 million after taxes and the lump-sum reduction, far less than it would have cost to buy all possible lottery combinations.

Finally, there are a number of things that you should do before you cash in a major lottery win, including hiring lawyers and accountants to protect your interests. Hiring good people is important, but it costs money, further eating into your jackpot profits.

Can the Jackpot Get Big Enough to Be Worth Buying All Combinations?

So maybe a $1.5 billion jackpot isn’t enough to be worth buying all of the possible ticket combinations. But jackpots can grow ever larger than that, can’t they?

Well, kind of, but not really. As jackpot values rise, lottery fever kicks in and more and more people buy tickets. The more tickets get sold, the higher the chances that all possible combinations will be covered. So before the jackpots get close to big enough to be worth buying all the tickets, someone will almost certainly buy a winning ticket.

Conclusion

While you can guarantee a lottery jackpot given enough money, it rarely works in your favor. And the chance of a lottery jackpot getting big enough to ensure a good return on your investment is slim. When the $1.5 billion Powerball jackpot was won, lottery fever was so high that 89 percent of all possible combinations had been purchased. It’s highly unlikely that a Powerball jackpot will ever get much higher than that.

There are better strategies to win the lottery than tying up a half a million bucks in lottery tickets. Treat the lottery as it’s intended: a game, not an investment strategy. Buy a single lottery ticket any time the jackpot soars over $350 million, which is the point at which the risk becomes worth the $2. Then cross your fingers, hope for good luck, and have fun with the results.

You can guarantee a jackpot win by buying enough lottery ticket combinations. But how much would it cost to do it, and is the result really worth it?