Transcript for Lotto Fever: Going After $500M Powerball Jackpot
I'm bill weir. It has been said that a lottery is really just a tax for people who are bad at math. But when the jackpot hits half a billion dollars, even mr. Spock might let go of the logic to go buy a $2 fantasy. Yes, the odds are 1 in 175 million, and ye this powerball payd has rolled over 16 time without hitting all the numbers. But across much of the nation and all of tomorrow, all that will be pushed aside. Drowned out by the inner mantra, somebody has to win and it might as well be me. Here's rhinoens. . Reporter: Everyone who lines seems to have a strategy. Just one. Reporter: By definition, just about everyone's strategy fails. Is there any formula, any mathematical anything that can give you an edge over the person in front of you in line? No, don't put that on camera. There you go and good luck. Thank you. Reporter: To find out we went back to school tonight to southern methodist university to professor scott norris' math class. He went to harvard. The number of possible combinations is given by -- Reporter: Like most journalists, I barely passed algebra. We all agreed I should get some individual attention. Professor norris's formula is painfully complicated. There are 15 possible ball and five are drawn and the number of combinations is given by this form l.A. Reporter: The solution is downright painful. To get the total probability we simply multiply these numbers together and get a total probability of about 175 million. Reporter: Professor, with so many people playing this time around, does that hurt my odds? Your odds are the same no matter how many people play. You just have a higher chance of hao split the jackpot. Reporter: Is it better to choose my own number or let the computer pick them. ? Every number has exactly the same likelihood of winning so it doesn't matter. Reporter: You might wonder, how did the jackpot get this big? Because there have been so many losers. No winners in an unbelievable 16 drawings in a row. This time, so many people are buying tickets, powerball big wigs just raised the jackpot yet again today. To a cool, clean half a billion dollars. Yes, $500 million. For the record, if you take cash value option, you get a not so clean but still very cool $327 million. Now is probably a good time to review those odds again. Experts put the chance of winning at about 1 in 175 million. Since nearly all of us are losers, maybe these number will make us feel better. One status stigs concluded you are more likely to be possessed by the devil today than win the powerball. In fact, the odds are better that a lot of bad things might ham to us today. Like getting hit by an asteroid or being devoured by a flesh eating bacteria. Yes, someone really came one those odds. Professor, if I buy a lot of tickets, does that help my odds? It does. Your odds increase exactly proportional to how many you buy. If you buy 100 tickets, your odds increase to approximately n one.7 million. Reporter: One thing that shouldn't matter is where you live. But it sure looks like it does. Let's take the biggest jackpots. 300 million plus. Illinois and new jersey have been lucky there. Both states have sold three winning lottery tickets worth that much. Michigan is home to the winner of the largest single cash payout. Donald lawson took home $337 million earlier this year. Nebraska holds the distinction for selling most valuable ticket ever. 365 million. Split by eight workers in a meat packing plant back in 2006. 42 states, d.C. And the u.S. Virgin islands participate in powerball. But that leaves millions of americans out of luck. Including people in a little place called california. Ironically enough, nevada. Yes, people who live in the shadow of the las vegas strip cannot make this bet, at least not in their own state. Still, thousands from both states flocked to stores along the arizona border every time the jackpot gets this big. I want to win so I can put it ALL ON THE 49ers. Reporter: Which leads me to my last question. It was inspired by something everyone's favorite sports reporter observed last night on our station. These stories kill me. What is it, like 425 million, everybody goes nuts. They have to by a lottery ticket. 147, I'll wait. I will take the $100 million. That's just me. Are the smaller jackpots a better bet? In one sense knock. You always to have pay $2 to play. The smaller the jackpot, the smaller the expected payoff. However work larger jackpot there is a higher chance you might have to split the pot so it is a tradeoff. Reporter: By the way, the good professor, the one who actually understand that's formula, said he has never played the lottery. Ever. Although he admits that is not a lesson most of us will learn and certainly not on the eve of the big drawing. There you go. And good luck. "Nightline" in math class.
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