Winning the World since 1981


Posted by: Steve Player on Thursday, March 19, 2015 at 9:25:00 am

    As most of you know, the Multi-State MEGA MILLIONS game recently changed from a primary 5 out of 56 number format to a primary 5 out of 75 number format. Obviously, the game is much harder to win when the primary number field is increased by 35.8%, but there is a lot more to it than that. Let's put this new game format under a microscope and see what is really going on.

     The previous incarnation of the Mega Millions game required you to choose 5 numbers from a field of 56 primary numbers and then 1 number from a secondary field of 46 numbers. The overall odds of winning the First Prize Jackpot were 175,711,536 to 1. The new game format which was adopted in October of this year requires you to choose 5 numbers from a field of 75 primary numbers and then 1 number from a secondary field of 15 numbers. The overall odds of winning the First Prize Jackpot are now 258,890,850 to 1. This represents an overall odds increase of 32% in one fell swoop! 

    Now let's dig a little bit deeper. As we all know, winning the second prize by choosing the five primary numbers correctly is a very appealing proposition and would make most players very happy. In the previous 56 number game, the odds of picking 5 numbers right was 3,961,732 to 1. The odds of picking 5 numbers right in the new 75 number format is now exactly 17,259,390 to 1. That represents an overall odds increase of 335%!!! Yes, in all fairness, the second prize has increased in the new format, but that does not in my opinion justify the astronomical increase in the odds. In further fairness, the overall odds of winning any prize in the new format is now 1 in 14.71 compared to the previous overall odds of 1 in 40. Before you start thinking that this is a great new feature, keep in mind that this decrease in the overall odds of winning any prize was driven strictly by the reduction of the Mega Ball number field from 46 to 15 numbers. These overall odds are greatly influenced by the ease of getting just the Mega Ball number right, which only pays the winner $1.00. I don't know anyone who plays the game in hopes of winning just $1.00, which is essentially a break even proposition. 

    So what is really going on here? I'm glad you asked, and in order to properly answer that question I will attempt to present a short history lesson of the ongoing cannabalization of the Lottery game in America. When I started playing the Lottery in the early 1980's, a First Prize Jackpot of a Million dollars was a big deal. It's not just that a Million bucks was a lot more money back then, but more directly this was the first time that an average person was presented with the opportunity of winning that much money overnight. I think that we would all agree that for most reasonable people, winning a cool Million is still an attractive dream to this day. After a few years, the allure of winning just one Million dollars faded...I guess the newness of the novelty simply waned. Then the States began to change their game structures and like magic the Jackpots grew. Suddenly, everytime the Jackpot hit 3, 4 or 5 Million people got excitied again and ran out to buy a ticket. This phenomenon was called Jackpot Fever, and the various State Lotteries figured out that the higher the prize, the more enthusiam would prevail, and consequently, the more tickets they could sell. That's when the collective State Lotteries figured out their "dirty little three part secret:" 

    1) - Increase the numbers in the game thus increasing the odds.

    2) - Watch the Jackpots grow when no one wins the First Prize.

    3) - Sell a lot more tickets and make a much bigger profit!

     Let's fast forward a few years to the advent of the Multi-State Lotteries. As the State Lotteries game fields grew larger, they eventually hit a glass ceiling called population saturation. With only "X" amount of potential players in a State, the State Lotteries realized that there was a finite limit to the amount of tickets they could sell. This limit was simply driven by the population of viable players in any given State. The States spent mega dollars on advertising efforts to attract new players, but eventually, they figured out that once they sold a weekly ticket to everyone who even had a remote interest in playing the Lottery, they would reach a tipping point. There was a fine line on how high you could raise the odds before players realized that they were being suckered by the State. Although we were regularly seeing Jackpots grow into the tens of Millions, soon the appeal of these Jackpots again subsided and sales flat lined.

    It was at this point that someone came up with the great idea of a Multi-State Lottery game. If we could pool together the playing populations of many States, then we could increase the odds and grow even bigger Jackpots thus attracting even more players. What they essentially created here was a national model of viral Jackpot Fever. And it worked!!! With the advent of the BIG GAME (the predecessor of MEGA MILLIONS) and POWERBALL, Jackpots soon climbed to 100 Million dollars and above, and a whole new revenue stream was created to fullfill the insatiable thirst of the State Lottery coffers.

    That brings us to the present day, with the two big kids on the block being the MEGA MILLIONS and POWERBALL games. These are huge money making machines; corporations owned by the various member States, and the only thing larger in scope than the size of the new record Jackpots are the monsterous egos of the wizards who are calling the shots from behind the curtain. Keep in mind that we are talking about a huge amount of profit for the States on these games, especially when the Jackpots head for the stratosphere. Since the games only pay out less than half of all the money they take in, when you see a 500 Million dollar Jackpot advertised, it means that no matter what, the States will rake in 500 Million dollars as well. That's just the way the Lottery is designed: the State always wins!!! And since it is illegal for any entity other than State Lottery Commisions to run Lottery games, they have a total monopoly on this Cash Cow, a cow that players all around the country feed on a weekly basis. 

    Now let's get back to the ego thing...this megamaniacal rivalry between the Powerball barons and the MEGA MILLIONS magnates that we are witnessing today. These folks spend more money on marketing than many major U.S. corporations. The pie in the sky prize for both of these entities, besides the Billions of dollars they are raking in, is the coveted "record Jackpot" title. Currently the Mega Millions game holds this distinction with their $656 Million prize that was won on March 30, 2012. The Powerball game is maintaining a close second place with their $590 Million prize that was won on May 18, 2013. But as we all know, second place means that you lost, and the recent changes to the Powerball game were a direct action to reclaim the crown. But greed is a funny thing, and the powers that be at the Mega Millions board room saw this assault coming and decided that they would stack the deck. Hence the new 75 number game. Make no mistake about it, this is corporate rivalry on steroids. It is nothing less than all out war. Since the MEGA MILLIONS game served up their latest rediculous game change, not a single Jackpot has been won since October. And that was the idea in the first place. By increasing their odds to a whopping 258,890,850 to 1, they essentially insured that they would be the first to break the Billion dollar Jackpot level, the current day crown jewel that both of these games have set their sights on. 

    Be assured that a lot of research has gone into the design of these new games in the quest to break and hold the Jackpot records. As I see it, here are the brushstrokes of the Mega Millions game purveyors crusade for overall supremecy. When a player walks into the local Lottery store and sees one Jackpot at $20 Million and another Jackpot at $200 Million, they are most likely to buy a ticket for the $200 Million game. This causes the sales of tickets for the higher Jackpot game to increase more quickly, thus, in effect, causing the Jackpot to grow more quickly. In turn, this also causes the sales of tickets for the lower Jackpot game to slow, which in turn insures that the lower Jackpot games Jackpot will grow more slowly. And that is exactly what is happening right now. The MEGA MILLIONS Jackpot keeps on growing while the POWERBALL Jackpot climbs slowly and is more frequently won and therefore never really has a chance to compete. It is a brilliant plan, and again, it is a virtual assurance that the MEGA MILLIONS game will reach the Billion dollar mark first. Even if the MEGA MILLIONS Jackpot is won in the next few draws, it is making news, and it will start growing again more quickly than the POWERBALL Jackpot as the next horse race ensues. 

    So where does that leave all of us, the players that make the whole thing work? In a single word, it leaves us screwed. Who in their right mind really wants to take on odds of over 250 million to 1? And for what, to win 20 or 30 or 50 Million? But when that figure gets up to $500 Million or more, then everyone will come out of the woodwork and start handing over their hard earned dollars because we can't help but buy into the dream. Personally I think that these games are completely out of control...almost disgustingly so. There are plenty of Lottery games available that offer the player a substantial prize with far better odds. These are the games that can be tracked and played with mathematical advantages and many of us are making very good money playing and beating these games on a regular basis. As far as the new 75 number MEGA MILLIONS game is getting to the point of being nothing more than a luck proposition. Sure, if you want in on a chance at taking down the next $700 Million Jackpot, go ahead and throw a dollar into the pot, and hope for the best. Some players will focus exclusively on winning the primary 5 number right prize without the MEGA BALL. If you are playing at this level, you can win $1 Million in an all cash payout while facing odds of 17,259,390 to 1, or up to $5 Million if you pay the extra buck for the Mega Play option. The odds are still wildly stacked against you, but  you do have a chance of winning a few Million; although 75 numbers is a huge number field to attempt to manage. 

    It will be interesting to watch where this is all heading over the coming years. Where is the ceiling for these new GREEDBALL games. Is it a 100 number field? Is it the eventual and certainly inevitable advent of two extra ball numbers? Is it the new price of $5.00 per ticket looming just over the horizon? The folks that run these games are constantly looking for and testing new marketing angles that will allow them to reach deeper into our pockets and vacuum away more of our Lottery dollars. It will go on and on until we, the players, finally send a message to the various Lottery Commissions telling them that we have had enough. Give us fair odds games that fit into our budgets and let us have fun and maybe win a few bucks along the way. This will only happen if we, the players, stand up and make some noise. My suggestion is that we start a national boycott on both the MEGA MILLIONS and POWERBALL games. As long as we keep feeding these games money, they will continue to find new ways to get more of our money and work feverishly to recruit new players into their ranks.  I therefore propose that we send a message by spending our Lottery dollars elsewhere. Let's all play the Pick-3, Pick-4, Pick-5 and Pick-6 games exclusively and make the MEGA MILLIONS and POWERBALL conglomerates stop treating us like idiots. Forward this article to your Lottery playing friends...who knows, maybe we can start a movement, and maybe one day these games will become fun and profitable for us again!!!




GOOD LUCK.....Steve Player