How often are Powerball jackpots won?

For any lottery player, one hot topic is surely the frequency of winnings. How often do winners emerge? We are not referring to winners of small prizes (fifty dollars to a few thousand dollars). Some of the larger small prizes are interesting for sure (e.g. $50,000). But these small prizes, though nice to have, are far too small to give the feeling that the winner is “set for life”. So the question is: how many “million-dollar plus” winners are there?

In fact, the most read post in this blog is on this question. The post is called How many lottery winners are there in a year?. For California lottery, the answer is about 10 prizes a year that pay out $1 million or more. This fact is based on the lottery winnings data from California Lottery from 1985 to 2010 (discussed here).

What about Powerball? How many jackpot winners are there? How often do people win Powerball jackpots? There’s plenty of winners winning small prizes. Powerball is surely the biggest lottery game in United States. The jackpot sizes are now in the hundreds of million dollars range (sometimes in the billion dollar range). Powerball definitely catches people’s imagination. The essential question is: how often do people win these jackpots that are in the hundreds of million dollars (or more)?

We answered this question in a blog post called Making Sense of Powerball Data. Go there to look at the graphics and analysis. Here’s the graphics used in that blog post.

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Figure 1 – Frequency of Powerball Jackpot Winnings

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Figure 2 – Powerball Jackpot Total Payout By Year (not including non-jackpot prizes)

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Figure 3 – Powerball Jackpot Average Payout By Year (not including non-jackpot prizes)

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How often do people win the Powerball jackpot? The short answer is that there are fewer Powerball jackpot winners than there used to be. But the jackpot sizes are much larger than what it used to be. The average jackpot size in 2016 (the last full year of data) is about $490 million (almost half a billion dollars). The jackpot sizes prior to 2016 were in the one hundred million dollars range. So the average jackpot size is almost five times larger than what they used to be.

Fewer winners but larger winnings. This is by design. A rule change in 2015 made it harder to win the jackpot. As a result, weeks and months go by without a jackpot winner. Once the jackpot accumulates to the hundreds of million dollars range, people are really excited. Excitement drive ticket sales. Some people call this a cynical ploy. Regardless of whether it should be labeled cynical, it is definitely a ploy. The ploy is working spectacularly.

So buyers beware. Powerball is an exciting game. The prize of a ticket can allow the buyer to fantasize for a few days. The odds for the fantasy to become a reality are 1 in 292 million. There are not these many adults in the United States! If every adult in the United States buys a Powerball ticket, it is still possible that there be no jackpot winner! This is one part of the ploy that makes it hard to win the jackpot. With winning less frequent, the jackpot grows larger and larger. So the jackpot sizes in the hundreds of millions of dollars are indeed manufactured. It is OK to buy a ticket or two. But be sober minded. Just know that there is a larger force working against you than for you.

The featured post gives further explanation on the Powerball data. It also has links to other posts on the business model of Powerball (the model is for the enrichment of Powerball and not for the players). It also talks about alternative money strategy for anyone who do not want to be manipulated by Powerball.

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\copyright 2017 Dan Ma

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