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US Powerball lottery: Best way to avoid having to share the jackpot

Let's start with the short odds. The chance that at least one person will win the world's largest US Powerball jackpot today - valued at $2.1 billion - is high (about 77 per cent, according to one analysis).

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Three hour lines for Powerball tickets

People wait for three hours in line on the California/Nevada border for their chance to buy a Powerball ticket, as Nevada does not participate in the Powerball lottery.

On the other hand, your chances of winning are next to zero - or more precisely, one in 292 million. So your next-best strategy might be to minimise your chances of having to split the jackpot in the exceedingly unlikely event you choose the winning numbers.

One way of doing this is by exploiting this simple flaw: humans are terrible at choosing random numbers.

When asked to pick a random number, humans tend to go for odd, prime and sequential numbers, and avoid repeating digits and numbers missing zeros. We also tend to choose numbers about one-third or two-thirds between the smallest and largest numbers when the numbers are arranged sequentially. And that's when we're trying to be random.

When it comes to choosing lotto numbers, humans don't like randomness. We want to play "winning" numbers; numbers we believe are lucky.


Every number in the pool has the same odds of being drawn. But the universal human urge to make sense of chaos means our brains often see meaning where none exists - including in numbers.

For example, a 1998 paper in the Journal of Risk and Uncertainty found the most frequently played numbers in Britain were 7,14, 21, 28, 35 and 42 - all multiples of the number 7, the world's favourite number, according to a 2014 global survey of 44,000 people.

The most common explanation respondents gave for their favourite number was that it was their birthday. Unsurprisingly, birthdays are one of the most common ways lotto players pick their "winning" numbers.

Unfortunately for those players, this means the most commonly chosen numbers are clustered below the number 31. This has zero effect on your chances of winning. However, it does mean that, if the numbers drawn are between 1 and 31, the likelihood of the jackpot being shared are significantly higher. So if you don't like sharing, go for the numbers 32 and greater.

For those intent on the jackpot, it may also be worth bearing in mind that the chances of winning the Powerball jackpot in Australia are nearly four times higher than in the US.

In the US, five balls are drawn from 69 and one Powerball is drawn from 26 balls. This gives you a one in 292 million chance of winning the jackpot.

In Australia, six balls are drawn from 40 and one Powerball drawn from 20 balls, giving you close to a one in 76 million chance of winning Powerball's Division 1 prize (equivalent to the US jackpot).

On the other hand, there are nine winning combinations in the US Powerball, compared with eight in the Australian Powerball. So in the US, you have a one in 38 chance of winning the smallest prize ($US4 for picking the Powerball), versus a one in 110 chance of winning the smallest prize in the Australian version (Division 8, which requires two winning numbers plus the Powerball).

So if you're just out to win something, anything, and that feeling is worth more than the money you'll have lost buying the ticket, then the US Powerball might just be the game for you.