Mega Millions, Powerball prizes come down to math, long odds

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — For all the anticipation about whether someone will finally snag the gigantic Mega Millions and Powerball jackpots, the games come down to two things: simple math — and very long odds.

But there are some quirks and surprises about the math equations that likely will soon vault someone into stratospheric wealth after the jackpots grew for months without a winner.

WHAT ARE THE JACKPOTS?

The biggest quirk starts with this fact: The advertised $1.6 billion Mega Millions prize — the world's largest ever lottery jackpot — and $620 million Powerball prize aren't quite real. That is, those are the amount you'd be paid if you chose an annuity, doled out over 29 years. Nearly every winner opts for cash, which is the amount of money the lottery folks actually have in the bank ready to pay out to the company that would fund the annuity.

The cash option is still massive, at $904 million for Mega Millions and $354.3 million for Powerball. But those numbers aren't splayed across billboards and shown in countless mini marts across America.

POTENTIAL COMBINATIONS

The dismal odds of winning the Mega Millions jackpot — 1 in 302.5 million — mean there are 302.5 million potential number combinations, or a little less than one combination for each of the 328 million people living in the U.S. For last Friday's drawing, about 59 percent of possible combinations were taken. But by Tuesday night's drawing, officials estimate that 75 percent will be sold.

That would mean a 25 percent chance of no winner. If that happens, it's likely even more combinations would be covered before the next drawing three days later. Officials don't have an estimate on how many tickets would be sold for that potential drawing, and they haven't said how large the estimated prize would be. Could it reach $2 billion?

The odds of winning Powerball are 1 in 292.2 million.

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Lottery winners throughout history
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Lottery winners throughout history
Great Grandmother Elizabeth Jones, aged 71, from Warrington in Cheshire who won #8,355,262 (US$13,368,400) in last Saturday night's national lottery poses for photographers with a crystal ball May 5. Jones' granddaughter was told of a windfall this May by a spritualist she visited in October 1997. DC/ME
Shirley and Frank Capaci show off a check for $104,300,000 during a photo opportunity in Pell Lake, May 27. The Capacis won the largest lottery prize in U.S. history in the "Powerball" drawing of May 20, 1998. Looking on is state of Wisconsin Lottery Director Don Walsh (R). AF/HB/SB
Sean and Alex Taylor from Whitwick, Leicestershire celerbrate after scooping the jackpot of ?9,512,277 on the National Lottery in Birmingham May 6. The pasties delivery man who has three children screamed with disbelief when he realised the size of his win. BRITAIN
Lucky lottery winner Bruno Calonne (C)holds a board December 3, with the amount of 69.378.690 francs ($ 13.8 million) he won in yesterday's draw, in this northern France city. He is France's biggest winner in the national lottery since it was founded in 1976. L and R are the unidentified loto shop clercks
Powerball Lottery winner Andrew "Jack" Whittaker (R) holds a copy of his check at lottery headquarters in Charleston, West Virginia, on December 26, 2002, after winning the $314.9 million jackpot. Looking on at left are members of Whittaker's family (L to R) daughter Ginger, grandaughter Brandi Bragg, and wife Jewell. REUTERS/John Sommers II JPSII/TRA/JD
Joanne (L) and Jorge (R) Lopes of Englishtown, New Jersey, receive their check for almost $59 million in Trenton, New Jersey April 30, 2002. Jorge Lopes bought the quick-pick Big Game ticket as one of five he purchased at a foodmart. The couple took home the largest ever single ticket prize in New Jersey. REUTERS/Chip East CME/HB
Erika Greene of Lawrenceville, Georgia holding the display check given to her at the Georgia Lottery headquarters as she and her mother Vicki Chambless (R) laugh during a press conference in Atlanta, Georgia, April 17, 2002. Greene who is one of three winners of the Big Game, bought her winning ticket at Rans Texaco in Dacula, Georgia and will receive $58,938,743 before taxes. REUTERS/Tami Chappell TLC/HK
Filipino-born hospital worker Pedro Sotomil (R), representing the PFK Family Partnership, smiles as he is presented a ceremonial check by Lori Montana (L), director of the Illinois Lottery, at a press conference in Chicago May 17, 2002, where he claimed his portion of the $331 million Big Game jackpot. REUTERS/Sue Ogrocki SUE/JP/JD
Sheryel Hanuman (L) of Minneapolis receives a check from George Andersen, director of the Minnesota State Lottery, at the Lottery's office in Roseville, Minnesota, August 27, 2001 during the press conference announcing her as one of four winners of the $295 million Powerball lottery jackpot from the August 25 drawing. Hanuman plans to take the cash option of $41.4 million ($27 million after tax withholding). Hanuman, married and the mother of three boys, bought five one dollar tickets at a Cub Fods grocery store while shopping for a friend's wedding card. EM
EuroMillions lottery winner Angela Kelly smiles as she holds a copy of her winning cheque at a news conference at Airth Castle, Scotland August 15, 2007. Kelly, Britain's biggest lottery winner, was stunned into silence when she realised she'd scooped 35 million pounds ($71 million) with a single �1.50 ($3) ticket. REUTERS/David Moir (BRITAIN)
Powerball Lottery winners, from left to right, Chasity Rutjens, Alain Maboussou, and Dung Tran, celebrate after each was awarded a check for their share of the record $365 million jackpot in Lincoln, Nebraska February 22, 2006. The group of eight winners selected the cash option, awarding each person US$22,162,500 before tax withholdings. REUTERS/Chris VanKant
Winners of the record $340 million lottery Powerball look at the winning check in Salem, Oregon, November 8, 2005. The winners are: (L-R standing) Frances Chaney, Steve West, Carolyn West and Robert Chaney (seated). The winning ticket will be split between members of the Chaney and West families of Medford, Oregon. The $340 million jackpot drawing on October 19, 2005 was the largest Powerball jackpot ever won and the second largest worldwide jackpot ever. REUTERS/Steve Dipaola
Paul White (L), 45, from Ham Lake, Minnesota, stands with his partner Kim VanReese (C) and co-worker Nancy Bowen (R) as he holds a check for his $149.4 million portion of a $448.4 million Powerball jackpot prize at a news conference at Minnesota State Lottery headquarters in Roseville, August 8, 2013. White, the first to come forward to claim his money, was one of three winners of the jackpot. REUTERS/Eric Miller (UNITED STATES - Tags: SOCIETY)
Powerball lottery winners known as "The Ocean's 16 group", comprising of workers from an Ocean County garage, pose for a picture after a news conference in Tom's river, New Jersey, August 13, 2013. Sixteen county maintenance department workers from New Jersey submitted the second winning ticket on Monday in the $448 million Powerball lottery, officials said. The group from Ocean County, on the Jersey shore, was presented with a check for $86,054,355, their share of the jackpot after taxes, lottery officials said. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz (UNITED STATES - Tags: SOCIETY)
John Mandley (L) of the Maryland State Lottery is pictured with the ?Three Amigos? who claimed their part of record-breaking Mega Millions jackpot in this picture released to Reuters on April 10, 2012. The Maryland Lottery?s Mega Millions winners are three friends, all of whom work in Maryland?s public education system, who will share the $218.6 million portion of the record-breaking $656 million jackpot from March 30. The winners, who referred to themselves as ?The Three Amigos,? chose the cash option of $158 million. After taxes, the winners will share $105 million, taking home just under $35 million each. REUTERS/Maryland State Lottery/Handout (UNITED STATES - Tags: SOCIETY) FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS
Mega Millions Jackpot winner Merle Butler (R) and his wife Patricia pose with their check along with Red Bud Mayor Tim Lowry (L) and Illinois Lottery superintendent Michael Jones during a press conference at Red Bud City Hall in Red Bud, Illinois, April 18, 2012. The retired couple described as "good people" by residents of this picturesque Illinois town claimed their one-third share of a record $656 million Mega Millions lottery prize on Wednesday, saying they would invest most of the money. The winning couple, Merle and Patricia Butler, married for 41 years, have lived all their lives in Red Bud, a tidy farming and manufacturing community of 3,700 people in southern Illinois, named for the trees that tower all over town. REUTERS/Illinois Lottery/Handout (UNITED STATES - Tags: SOCIETY) FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS
Tom Delacenserie (L), Secretary of the Florida Lottery poses with Maureen Smith and David Kaltschmidt of Melbourne Beach with an oversized check after opting to claim their share in a lump sum payment in a winning ticket, worth $528.8 million, from the Jan. 13 drawing at the state's lottery headquarters in Tallahassee February 17, 2016. The Florida couple claimed their share of last month's record $1.6 billion U.S. Powerball lottery jackpot on Wednesday, coming forward with the second of the three winning tickets. REUTERS/Don Juan Moore
Powerball jackpot co-winners Lisa and John Robinson of Munford, Tennessee, their daughter Tiffany Robinson (L) and Tennessee Lottery President and CEO Rebecca Hargrove attend a news conference at the headquarters of the Tennessee Lottery in Nashville, Tennessee January 15, 2016. The couple revealed on the TODAY television show that they held a winning ticket to claim their share of the $1.6 billion Powerball prize. REUTERS/Harrison McClary TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
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AS THE GRAND PRIZE INCREASES, SO DO WINNER NUMBERS

The odds of winning don't change as jackpots get larger, but the chance that more than one winner will share the prize do. When so many people rush to play as a jackpot soars , the chances increase that two or three tickets — of the millions of tickets sold — will match. Of the five largest jackpots awarded in the U.S., three went to multiple winners. The largest single prize went to a 2017 player from Massachusetts who celebrated a $758.7 million Powerball payday.

TWO JACKPOTS, ONE WINNER?

If the odds of winning either Mega Millions or Powerball don't seem gigantic enough, how about winning them both? Spend $4 on a ticket for each game and it could happen. But the odds aren't especially favorable, at about 1 in 88 quadrillion (that's 88,000,000,000,000,000).

LUCKY NUMBERS

For Mega Millions, players choose six numbers: five from a range of white balls, numbered 1 to 70, and one number for the Mega Ball, with a range of 1 to 25. What numbers have come up most? Since 2010, that honor goes to the number 2, with 92 hits, followed by the numbers 20, 11, 31 and 17. The most hit Mega Ball number is 9.

Lottery officials are quick to point out that the number selection is random, so there's no reason that what hit in the past will be selected again. The game also has changed over the years, so some numbers included weren't always in the mix.

LUCKY STATES

Not surprisingly, the most Mega Million jackpot winners in the past five years have come from states with the largest populations. New York, with the nation's fourth-largest population, leads with seven winners. The No. 1 population state of California is second in Mega Millions winners with six, while Illinois is third with four winners.

Still, there are some quirks, as Georgia has the eight-largest population and three winners and Washington state has two winners but only the 13th largest population. Texas has the nation's second-largest population, yet players have only bought winning Mega Millions tickets in the state twice in the past five years. And let's hear it for Rhode Island, the smallest population state to have won a Mega Millions jackpot in the past five years.

AMERICA IS NO. 1

For those with an international bent, the current Mega Millions jackpot has surpassed all lottery jackpot records — so it's not only the largest lottery prize in U.S. history, it's now the world's largest.

The annual El Gordo national lottery in Spain advertises a larger total prize pool, but the money is divvied up into many prizes, according to Seth Elkin, a spokesman for the Maryland lottery, which currently takes questions about the Mega Millions drawing.

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Follow Scott McFetridge on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/smcfetridge

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For the AP's complete coverage of the lottery: https://apnews.com/Lottery

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