The Madeleine Brand Show for March 30, 2012

The odds behind biggest Mega Millions pot ever

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With the Mega Millions jackpot at its highest ever, people are rushing to buy lottery tickets for a chance to win.

The drawing for the biggest Mega Millions lottery jackpot ever takes place Friday night. And as the jackpot grows to epic proportions, now reaching $640 million, more and more people are buying tickets for a chance to win. So what are the chances you could pick the right numbers to win tonight?

The odds that a given individual will win the big bucks is about 1 in 175 million. In other words, you're more likely to get struck by lightening several times in one year than hit the lottery. Nevertheless, people just can't help daydreaming about how they might spend their hypothetical multimillion-dollar jackpot.

"You shouldn't make big decisions based on your plans to win," said Jordan Ellenberg, author of Slate.com's "Do the Math" column. "Quit your job after, not before you buy the ticket."

Whether the jackpot is $10 million or $640 million, your odds of winning are exactly the same. The only difference when the pot swells to epic proportions is you might end up sharing your winnings with other winners.

Guest:

Jordan Ellenberg professor of mathematics at the University of Wisconsin, writer of "Do the Math" column on Slate.com.


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