These are your odds of winning the R128 million Powerball this week

The estimated R128 million Powerball jackpot this week is one of the highest running totals seen for the game, having grown from 18 consecutive rollovers over the past few weeks.

The largest Lotto jackpot in South Africa was the R232 million Powerball won in 2019, and the total has hit over the R100 million mark ten other times – including this week’s prize.

However, while the promise of a big win is an obvious draw to those dreaming of a life-changing cash prize, the odds of actually winning the lottery are incredibly slim – and the actual return on spend is the worst in the gambling industry.

The odds of winning South Africa’s lottery have always been incredibly slim, but became even worse when the game changed in 2017 by increasing the number of balls in play from 49 to 52. According to the National Lotto website, there are now 20,358,520 different combinations that one can play when choosing 6 out of 52 numbers for the standard Lotto draw. These are the odds for every game, regardless of the jackpot. With the cost of a single play at R5, you would have to spend R101,792,600 for a guaranteed chance of winning.

Naturally, these odds decrease if you are not aiming to win the jackpot – but even the best odds (a match of three balls excluding the bonus) are 1 in 71.7 – and the payout for a guaranteed win (R50) doesn’t even come close to what you’d need to spend to get it (R360).

For the Powerball, the odds are even worse.

As per the Lotto, a single Powerball play will cost you R5,00. However, there are 42,375,200 different combinations that one can play when choosing 5 out of 50 numbers and 1 out of 20 numbers.

This means you can expect to pay R211,876,000 for a guaranteed chance of winning.

What makes it a bad bet

The Lotto and Powerball prize pools are calculated at 50% and 45% of total sales, respectively – which means for every R1 you spend on the game, you have a chance to get 50 cents and 45 cents back. The Powerball’s prize pool has actually dropped over the years, and was recorded at 48% back in 2018.

Regardless, this means that there is an effective 50%/55% loss on what you pay.

This is more commonly referred to as the ‘house edge’ in most casino games, which shows how much the casino – or in this case the Lotto – is guaranteed to make on your spending over time. Effectively, the profit made per bet.

For games like roulette, the house edge is much lower – around 5% – while games like blackjack and craps can be under 1%. Slot machines carry a wide range, but can be as low as 5% and as high as 20%, depending on the machine and game type.

While betting on everything to score a win is not a good tactic in any gambling venture, with state lotteries, it is particularly egregious.

State lotteries are money-making ventures, and the South African Lotto is no exception. The FAQ says that the Lotto generates revenue that goes to various charities which assist the poor. Ironically, however, it is largely the poor who spend money on tickets, trying to escape poverty. No matter which way you look at it, it’s just a bad bet – and it’s been that way for hundreds of years.


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