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

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

Powerball Tickets Surrounded by Cash
••• How Much Cash Does It Take to Guarantee a Lottery Jackpot?.  Image (c) Jahcottontail143 / Getty Images

Everybody knows that the odds of winning a lottery jackpot are sky-high, right? Well, that's only kind of true. The odds of hitting a jackpot can be 100 percent if you buy enough lottery combinations. But how many combinations would you have to buy? How much would you have to invest to do it? And would that 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 entries.

Rather, 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 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 possible combinations 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.

Does It Make Financial 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 seem to outstrip what you would 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 winning the jackpot, you can't guarantee that you will come out with a profit. Even with an advertised jackpot bigger than the amount you'll 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 have 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 percent in federal taxes on your prize and some states also tax jackpots, Depending on the state you live in, you could lose up to another 8.82 percent to the government.

Then you'll 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 a half a million dollars that would be more liquid.

If you take the lump-sum payout, you 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 there, 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.

Conclusion

In short, while you can guarantee a lottery jackpot given enough money, it rarely works out 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. Then 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.