Avoid The Lottery: Play This Deeply Depressing Lottery Simulator Instead

There are lots of things that you would probably do if you won the lottery. Pay off your family members’ mortgages, fill a Jacuzzi with hot chocolate, buy a water park, or donate to your favorite blog. However, a basic understanding of math will force you to admit that there are much better places for your dollar than the lottery’s coffers. You can, however, simulate the experience of playing the lottery for decades at a time without ever spending money on a ticket. This handy web app simulates the experience of playing the same numbers in the multi-state MegaMillions game for as long as ten years.

Here are my results, using the time-honored lottery numbers passed down through one generation of my family:

You played 104 games of Mega Millions. It cost $104. You won $3.

$101? I think I’d rather have a new Roku. Or a savings account.

Incredibly Depressing Mega Millions Lottery Simulator! [Cockeyed]

You’re More Likely To Go Bankrupt From Winning A Lottery Than To Win One
Poor People Spend 9% Of Income On Lottery Tickets


Edit Your Comment

  1. shepd says:

    Well, I won $77 after 2 years on MY favrourite numbers: 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32.

  2. Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

    I won on the first try…

  3. eccsame says:

    I don’t trust a computer to be truly “random”. A real simulator would have ping pong balls and someone from the State Comptroller’s office on hand to do the drawing.

    • jimmyhl says:

      Pennsylvania uses the ping pong balls. Years ago the lottery TV announcer and others rigged a drawing by putting white paint inside all the balls except three 6’s, which of course rose to the top. They went to prison. We still use ping pong balls.

    • Pax says:

      A website I freqwuent – http://www.rpol.net – which is for playing games like Dungeons and Dragons in a “play by forum” format, has an included dice-rolling system. It has been tested with tens of billions of rolls, and found ot be more true than any physical die should ever statistically be. Even the ultra-strict-quality-control dice that Vegas uses, are less truly random than that algorithm.

    • Laura Northrup says:

      Don’t forget Yolanda Vega. [New York only]

      • KittensRCute! says:

        OMG I LOVE Yolanda Vaga, but girl as been on that job since i was a kid. so for at least 1.5 decades!

  4. donovanr says:

    A slightly more real (and thus more depressing; or informative) exercise would be to use the real numbers from past lotteries. There are dozens of 6 plus a bonus lotteries around with long histories. Thus you could see your favorite numbers to see if you would have ever won, ever.

    The stats gathered would be less useful as many people would then try known winning numbers.

    • formatc says:

      “The stats gathered would be less useful as many people would then try known winning numbers.”

      A sufficiently random lottery would have an equal chance of repeating winning numbers compared to any other combination.

      • zxo says:

        True, but enough statistics will tell you how close to truly random the drawing process is. Maybe the ink used to print the numbers makes a tiny, tiny difference.

        • PTB315 says:

          I have no idea what you mean, but once a set of numbers has occurred, there is no greater or lesser chance of that set occurring again than any other particular set of numbers.

          • zxo says:

            What I mean can be illustrated thusly:
            If a coin is flipped and comes up heads 10 times in a row…
            …your average schmo will think “Gosh, it’s time for tails to come up!”
            …a mathematician will think “Past performance makes no difference. It’s a 50/50 proposition.”
            …a gambler will think “That coin might be rigged… I’m betting on heads!”

            Basically what I’m saying is that bouncing ping-pong balls may not be completely random. Looking at the results of enough drawings can tell you if, say, the weight of the ink used to print the numbers on the balls has enough of an impact on the drawing. You could then use the results to pick numbers that have a slightly less infinitesimal chance of winning.

            How many drawings is enough? Probably billions – more than have ever been conducted, so it’s a fairly moot point.

    • vitajex says:

      That’s like saying
      “It was heads last time, sooooo
      it’s GOTTA be tails this time!”

    • NeverLetMeDown says:

      The stats that would be really useful would be the distribution of numbers being bet, so that you could avoid popular numbers, and thereby reduce the risk that you’d end up splitting the jackpot (in the incredibly unlikely event that you actually won).

  5. Tim says:

    4, 8, 15, 16, 23, 42 …

  6. OmniZero says:

    I got 5 balls correct to win $500,000 :-D But that was after spending about $5,000 in tickets.

  7. pecan 3.14159265 says:

    This is a tough one because I don’t have favorite numbers. People I know who play the lottery always have their favorite numbers, and I don’t. I mean, I have numbers I like, but I don’t hold any kind of value to them as if they’re magic. I chose numbers “at random” (meaning I chose numbers I liked or thought of, but don’t ascribe value to) and the first time I won $22 and the second time I won $11.

    • Ebriosa says:

      When I was 10 I used a random* number generator on a calculator to pick 3 numbers for a lotto. I gave them to my mom, grandma, and old nanny. Only my nanny played them and she won about 5,000 after never really having played herself. Of all the people, she needed the money the most, so I felt really good about that. Hooray for playing random! Not that I’ve played more than 5 times after that… but if I did, I’d go random.

      *Well, not really random. but pretty random. Random number generators are randomly unrandom.

  8. apple420 says:

    I did the simulator for 100 years with my numbers and didn’t win anything big. I think that means I’m bound to win the real lotttery if I play tonight.

  9. DigitalShawn says:

    After refreshing the result page about 5 times, I ended up with a cool million. The simulator, if true, would have the same results for the same numbers every time, not different results every time submitted.

    I used: 2, 7, 12, 17, 28 with 17 as the kicker.

    • zachinthedark says:

      You must be slow.

      “The simulator, if true, would have the same results for the same numbers every time, not different results every time submitted.”

      What you’re suggesting is that it is NOT random, and makes no sense.

  10. Nuc says:

    Sweet! After 200 years and almost $21,000 spent…I won $2138!

    That’s good, right?

  11. A Pimp Named DaveR says:

    I understand the mathematics behind the lottery. But you’re not buying a statistical return on your dollar. You’re buying hope.

  12. qbubbles says:

    Doesnt lottery money fund schools? At least that’s what they’re telling us in Virginia.

    • Sparkstalker says:

      That’s what they tell you…instead it all went into a forgotten VDOT savings account…

    • Erik Hughes says:

      Sure they fund schools, but they then just remove whatever amount they get from the lottery from whatever they were spending from the general fund on schools. So no, it’s not any extra money for schools.

  13. dadelus says:

    Great!!! Now I’m addicted to playing this simulator where there is absolutely NO chance of getting any money. :(

  14. Mighty914 says:

    It’s also a good idea to avoid Shirley Jackson’s lottery.

  15. joetan says:


  16. slim150 says:

    according to the stats at the bottom, you get a 65% return on your investment!!!!

  17. savvy9999 says:

    cockeyed.com is blocked for me here at work… what kind of site is that?

    • hoi-polloi says:

      It’s fantastic, and is well worth checking out. Rob Cockerham does everything from making elaborate halloween costumes and inventions, figuring out how much is inside different things (how many beers are in a keg, how much fruit is in a cup of yogurt, etc), exposing scams, committing lighthearted pranks, etc.

  18. Supes says:

    I have bad virtual luck… simulated probably 300 years of lottery playing, no single wins more than $150, no 10 year pull over $300.

    Worst series was $53 total won on 10 years of playing.

  19. Hobz says:

    It was depressing, I won on the first try and now I just wasted my luck on a simulator!

    Thanks for nothing…

  20. Oranges w/ Cheese says:

    You played 1040 games of Mega Millions. It cost $1040. You won $112.

  21. A.Mercer says:

    Something must be wrong with the calculator. I ran my numbers twice and it did not show to win millions. Obviously there must be something wrong with this simulation.

  22. ndonahue says:

    FWIW, it’s not bad to toss a buck at the lottery when the expected post-tax payout exceeds the probability of winning. The problem is calculating the probability of a split pot — which increases with the number of tickets sold for each drawing.

    Of course, if you’re smart enough to calculate both the post-tax payout and a good estimate of the probability on the fly as you’re standing in line at the gas and sip, there’s a good chance you’re already doing OK financially, and therefore don’t need to win the lottery.

    • NeverLetMeDown says:

      Problem is, that’s basically never the case. If you win solo (i.e. no jackpot split), the “headline” jackpot has to be $380 million in order for a ticket to have a $1 expected value after-tax, or basically matching the highest jackpot ever. Bottom line, to get a jackpot high enough to get a positive expected value if you’re the sole winner, you have a jackpot so large that the odds that you split it very high.

    • mianne prays her parents outlive the TSA says:

      When the odds are so extreme to begin with, I believe it is still nonsensical to place any sort of EV on lottery jackpot winnings. Surrrrrrrre…. You can have a huge jackpot of 400 million or so and have an EV of about $1.08 on your $1 ticket (assuming it’s not a split pot) But that still doesn’t change the fact that your odds of winning are infinitesimally small. I’m sure you’d agree it would be pure foolishness to buy $1000 worth of lottery tickets for that theoretical drawing.

      But if you play $1 simply for the dream of having the possibility of winning a huge JP, then let’s go with a worst case win scenario.. Spend $1 on a $20 million Powerball (minimum) drawing. Split the pot with someone else, take the roughly $6 million lump sum payment, and after state and federal taxes end up with about $3 million free and clear. While it wouldn’t provide a private jet, vacation homes all around the world and four star dining every night (for very long anyway), one could still have a very healthy early retirement from such a bank balance.

      The odds of winning are still virtually nil, and the EV is definitely against you at that level too, but still I consider this to be a reasonably sane approach to playing the lottery. Play $1 every week on whichever lottery (Powerball, Mega Millions, state lottery, etc.) has the largest jackpot. Total cash outlay $52 year. Expected winnings: $0. But you can still daydream about winning the jackpot. $52 out of my retirement savings leave me about $3,200 poorer at retirement in 25 years assuming a 7% rate of return.

  23. NeverLetMeDown says:

    Looked at the actual odds (courtesy of Wikipedia).

    Adding together all the prizes, this only becomes a positive expected value game (where the expected after-tax payout on a given ticket is equal to $1) when the “headline” jackpot (the one you see on billboards) is about $750MM, or 2x the highest ever.

    On a $100MM headline jackpot, the expected payout is $0.27. By comparison, the expected payout on a Vegas strip slot machine is usually $0.85-0.90, and some table games are more like $0.99.

    A huge portion of the expected payout comes from the jackpot (odds one in 175 million). Even assuming zero taxes on the $250k second prize (the odds of winning that are 1 in 4 million), the total expected payout from the second to ninth prize is 18 cents per ticket.

    For the people who care, here’s what I assume to calculate payouts:
    1. Payouts of $250k or over are taxed at 35% rate, payouts of under $250k have no tax.
    2. The cash value of the jackpot is 60% of the “headline value” (because the headline value is an annuity)
    3. The jackpot gets split two ways (most of the biggest have been split at least two ways)

    • A Pimp Named DaveR says:

      I’d like to live in the state where lottery winnings under $250k are taxed at 0%….

      Anyhow, I don’t know why I’m fixated on this topic, but I am. I think you’re mixing up two economic concepts, though. You’re looking at statistically expected net return, which is a good thing. But it’s the gross return that determines whether the decision to buy a ticket is economically rational. And that (for the Mega Millions) kicks in at about $150M or so, if I recall the numbers correctly.

      Your decision is RATIONAL if you statistically expect to receive $1 or more in return for your $1 cost. If the odds against winning are 150 million to 1, a jackpot of $150M guarantees that $1 statistical return, so the decision is then rational: given the odds, your odds of breaking even or better are positive, so the decision is economically rational.

      It’s true that you won’t actually win $150m (unless you take it over 30 years), and you’ll have to pay taxes on that award — but you’d have to pay taxes on any return greater than $1 on your “investment”, so that factor should cancel out with respect to the economic rationality of the decision.

      Your analysis, though, is relevant to a comparative analysis of options. While buying the lottery ticket may be rational, it may not be the most rational (statistically) option compared to other options, because of the net return factor. So investing $1 at 1% interest vs. the lottery ticket is probably more rational, because your absolute return will be $1+ one day’s worth of interest, where as your expected return on the lottery is $1.00000000001 before tax, and $0.72 after tax.

      Economics is fun! Wait, no it isn’t….

  24. psm321 says:

    I don’t understand the overall stats at the very bottom. They seem to change wildly with each run (same numbers)…

    “In the 739608 times this simulation has run, players have won $439281”
    “In the 1034986 times this simulation has run, players have won $480360”
    “In the 1069517 times this simulation has run, players have won $503387”

    (on my first run it was actually 117%, after that it’s always been lower)

  25. Michaela says:

    I feel like such a total stats nerd for calculating the expected value before I even ran the simulator.

  26. zt says:

    I’m not sure why so many people are so strongly against the lottery. I spend $1 every now and again. That $1 is the difference between zero chance of a life-changing event and some finite chance of the same. The money is negligible–I would surely have wasted it on something else instead. I don’t expect to ever win, but, you know, people actually do win, so why not throw my name in the hat…. Mathematicians may or may not agree with my definitions, but I say that a finite chance, however small, is infinitely better than zero chance.

  27. demonicfinger says:

    if people stopped playing the lottery then where else would the poor throw their money?

  28. Yenier says:

    I used to sell lottery tickets, and I can tell you I didn’t see many winners. Really sad to see seniors plunk down what little income they have, desperately trying to win to stay afloat. The only real winner is the lottery itself.

  29. PortlandBeavers says:

    The amazing thing to me is that lotteries can advertise the nominal value of a 30 year annuity as the actual value of the jackpot. I guess it isn’t that surprising since they are run by the states.

    All the simulators in the world won’t stop people from buying tickets. People still play Pick 3, and the odds of winning that game are painfully obvious. The worst thing is that I’m pretty sure you get a tax form even for the puny Pick 3 jackpot.

  30. tacitus59 says:

    I know the lottery is generally a waste of money, but the tradional lottos and even the daily number don’t bother me that much. Its the stuff that encourages compulsive gambling like Keno (in our state numbers are chosen every like 5 minutes) and the scratch-off that really bother me. Keno is generally played in bars – you might as well have casinos.