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National

Powerball: You Can't Win If You Don't Play

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

OK, here's some news that you can definitely use. The Powerball jackpot is up to $1.4 billion for Wednesday night's drawing. That is the upside. Here's the downside.

RON WASSERSTEIN: There are 292 million combinations of numbers you could pick.

GREENE: Or, to put it another way...

WASSERSTEIN: You have a 99.9999997 percent chance of losing if you do play.

GREENE: That's great. That is Ron Wasserstein. He's director of the American Statistical Association. And he says the bottom line is you are not going to win.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

If you still need convincing, he has an analogy. Imagine you have a stack of pennies the height of the Empire State Building.

WASSERSTEIN: You would need to buy 1,000 lottery tickets to have the same probability of winning the Powerball jackpot as you would have to pick the one penny out of the stack the height of the Empire State Building.

INSKEEP: That's a great analogy. Except now I'm hung up on what happens to that stack of pennies when you yank a penny out of the middle.

GREENE: Yeah, bad things. Well, in any case, some people try to improve their odds by buying tickets in groups. Wasserstein says even joining a group of 50 people is just not going to help much.

WASSERSTEIN: Instead of a 1 in 292 million chance, I now have a 50 in 292 million chance of winning, which is still unimaginably, ridiculously, impossibly small.

GREENE: That's the reality. It is likely that your brain already knew it.

INSKEEP: But, of course, your instinct says something else. So good luck when you play. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.