Here's How You Should've Played the Powerball

Advice from a Boston College expert in gaming and lotteries.

Last night, two Powerball players from Missouri and Arizona laid claim to the largest spoils in Powerball history, and four people from Massachusetts won million dollar cash prizes after choosing all but one of the five winning numbers. You, meanwhile, won nothing. Boston College business professor the Rev. Richard McGowan, S.J. — an expert in gaming and lotteries — weighs in with advice on how you should have played it.

1. One ticket was enough to buy a chance to win big (but you shouldn’t have wasted money on a second.)

“The odds of winning the drawing are  .00000000057, or one in 175 million,” says McGowan. Even if you bought 100 tickets, the likelihood of winning only increased to .0000000057, or one in 17.5 million, he explains. With the odds still so low, it didn’t make sense to buy more than one.

2. There’s no strategy for choosing the right numbers – but for a better chance at winning the full payout, don’t play a birth date.

“Powerball is pure luck,” says McGowan. “Except that you are most likely not to have to share a possible win if you have a combination with a number greater than 31.” That’s because lots of people like to play birthdays, so a combination that includes numbers from one to 31 is more likely to be chosen than one that has only numbers above 31.

All of last night’s winning numbers were below 31— but it might be time to come up with some new lucky digits in time for the next drawing on Saturday.

3. Don’t get too attached to the plans you made for how you’d spend the jackpot — even the big winners won’t take away as much as they’d think.

Of the $580 million jackpot, you’d only receive $380 million “because of taxes, as well as sharing a bit of the prize money for other much smaller prizes,” McGowan says. For a higher payout, you’d need to be a resident of Delaware, Florida, or one of the five other states without an income tax.


After they split the jackpot, last night’s big winners can expect to pay 25 percent of their winnings to the federal government, and around 5 percent in state taxes — they’ll net around $130 million each. That’s still a sizable chunk of change, but they’re going to have to table any dreams of buying a professional sports team.