Author: Selena Maranjian | February 14, 2018
Here's a look at just how unlikely it is that you'll be the big winner
Americans spent more than $80 billion on lottery tickets in 2016 -- more than they spent on books, movie tickets, music, video games, and sports tickets -- combined. The reason why is clear: Lotteries offer the chance of striking it rich. Plenty of jackpots in recent years have offered hundreds of millions of dollars.
There's a problem, though: While the potential payoff may be astronomic, the chance of winning it is microscopic. The odds of winning the Powerball or Mega Millions grand prize are, respectively, 1 in 292,201,338 and 1 in 302,575,350. There are about 327 million people in America, so it's almost like randomly picking one resident as the winner.
No. 1: You're more likely to get into Harvard
You're more likely to get into Harvard than to win a lottery jackpot. Harvard received more than 39,000 applications for its class of 2021, and its acceptance rate is about 5%, giving applicants a 1 in 20 chance of being admitted. Of course, those are the odds for the top students who generally apply. The odds of getting in for more average students are lower, but they're still far better than winning the lottery.
No. 2: You're more likely to be attacked by a shark
Despite all the attention sharks get, such as via "Shark Week" on TV, your odds of being attacked by a shark are quite low -- 1 in 11.5 million, according to the University of Florida's International Shark Attack File (ISAF). (They're even lower if you restrict your swimming to rivers, pools, and lakes.) The folks at seeker.com pointed out a greater danger at the beach: "The New England Journal of Medicine reported that from 1990 to 2006, 16 people died by digging until the sand collapsed and smothered them. ISAF counted a dozen U.S. shark deaths in the same period. Clearly, you'd be safer in the water, with the sharks."
No. 3: You're more likely to be killed by a vending machine
The odds of being killed by a vending machine falling on you are quite small, but they're still better than your odds of winning a big lottery jackpot: 1 in 112 million. That's despite there being a lot of vending machines out there -- more than seven million exist in America, and the average amount spent at them each year per person is $27.
No. 4: You're more likely to be elected President of the United States
Here's a rough way to estimate your odds of becoming president: There are about 326 million people in America, and in a typical lifetime there might be 10 presidents. So your odds of moving into the White House could be about 1 in 32.6 millions. Of course, not every American is U.S.-born, qualifying for the job in the first place, so that makes your odds better still.
No. 5: You're more likely to have a child who is a genius
The odds of your child -- or you, for that matter -- being a genius are not good. Of course, there are many different definitions of genius, but if we go with, say, an IQ score of 150, only about 1 in 1,100 people achieve that. (Remember that a score of 100 is average, with half of people scoring above that and half scoring below it.) Stephen Hawking reportedly has an IQ of 160; the odds of that are about 1 in 11,000. Galileo and Leonardo da Vinci are estimated to have had IQs of at least 180. The odds of achieving that score? About 1 in 3.5 million.
No. 6: You're more likely to have identical quadruplets
It's not that unusual for a mother to give birth to twins. Triplets, though, are far rarer -- you've probably not even known any or many triplets. Quadruplets, clearly, are even rarer. Your odds of adding not only quadruplets, but identical ones, to your family are remote: 1 in 15 million. That's still far more likely than winning a big lottery jackpot.
No. 7: You're more likely to be struck by lightning
Yes, if you hang out under tall trees or on top of cleared hills during thunderstorms, it might not be too surprising if you're struck by lightning. But overall, each of us has a very, very low chance of being hit by lightning: In fact, it's about 1 in 1 million. In a group of 292 million people, only one is likely to win a Powerball jackpot, but 292 are likely to be zapped by lightning.
No. 8: You're more likely to be dealt a royal flush on the opening hand in a poker game
Imagine it. You're at a poker table and the dealer delivers your cards. You flip the cards up to examine your hand and there they are: five consecutively valued cards, all in the same suit. Clearly, that doesn't happen very often. And it's even less likely to happen in your first hand. The odds are actually 1 in 649,739.
No. 9: You're more likely to be diagnosed with the plague
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in recent decades, there have been about seven cases of the plague in America, on average, each year. With a U.S. population of 326 million, your odds of catching the plague are about 1 in 46.6 million. If you want to reduce those odds further, it's advised that you stay away from rodents and try not to touch living or dead rodents without gloves. Keep your pets free of fleas and use rodent flea repellants, yourself, if you're in an area where you might encounter them.
No. 10: You're more likely to hit a hole in one in golf
Imagine it -- you take a swing with your club, you strike the little golf ball, it goes soaring into the air... and lands directly in the cup (or lands and then rolls into the cup). If you're a golfer, you might be assuming that you will never achieve that, but you actually might. It's been estimated that the odds of getting a hole in one are 1 in 12,000 for an average golfer. For a tour player, of course, the odds are better, at 1 in 3,000. If you're an average player who plays an 18-hole round once a week, that's 936 holes per year. At that rate, the odds suggest that, on average, you'll get a hole in one about every 13 years.
No. 11: You're more likely to become a professional basketball player
As you might have suspected, no matter how good you are in pick-up basketball games, you're not likely to be playing for the NBA anytime soon. In fact, the odds of a high school athlete getting there are 1 in 11,771. The odds that a female high school athlete will become a professional basketball player are even more remote at 13,015. As minute as these odds are, they're still far better than your likelihood of winning a lottery jackpot.
No. 12: You're more likely to survive a plane crash
This tidbit might surprise you: Yes, it's very unlikely that you'll be in a plane crash at all, but if you are in one, you have a decent chance of surviving it. The odds of survival are 38%, or 1 in 2.63. Part of the reason is technology: Planes are designed much better than they used to be, with featurez like seats that are fire-retardant and can withstand 16 times the force of gravity. Pilots are better-trained than ever, too.
No. 13: You're more likely to have your tax return audited
The thought of having your tax return audited can be quite scary. Fortunately, it's not likely to happen to most of us. According to the 2016 IRS data book, there were about 148 million individual tax returns filed in 2015. Of those, a sizable 1.2 million ended up "examined" -- i.e. audited. That may seem like a lot, but it's a mere 0.8%. The odds, therefore are about 1 in 123. Those odds are likely to get even better in the coming years, as Congress has been cutting the IRS's budget repeatedly over many years.
No. 14: You're more likely to by killed by a falling coconut
Be careful on that tropical vacation that's supposed to relax you. Not many people are conked on the noggin by a rapidly descending coconut, but about 150 people per year are. Considering that there are some 7.6 billion people on earth, that amounts to odds of 1 in 50.7 million. An article at docastaway.com explains that while coconuts can seem harmless, they can sometimes weigh close to five pounds and can fall from as much as about 100 feet (which is like an eight-story building), yielding a force roughly equal to a ton as the coconut hits the ground.
No. 15: You're more likely to bowl a perfect 300 game
If you've ever bowled, you know that it's not the norm to bowl strike after strike after strike -- and it can seem impossible to bowl 12 of them in a row, for a perfect score of 300. It's not so impossible, though. The odds are actually 1 in 11,500 for an average bowler. They're better, of course, for a professional bowler: 1 in 460. Part of the difficulty in bowling a perfect game is that the pressure mounts, from one strike to the next. After a bunch of strikes in a row, it can be easy to choke on the next roll.
No. 16: You're more likely to die in a mountain lion attack
If you rarely see any mountain lions (except perhaps in a zoo), then you don't have much reason to worry about this one. Yes, you should be wary of them if there are some or many near you, but overall, your odds of dying in a mountain lion attack are 1 in 32 million. You can improve your odds further by not hiking alone, not turning your back on a mountain lion, and making constant eye contact with it while making lots of noise.
No. 17: You're more likely to be made a saint
If you think it's highly unlikely that you'll be canonized -- i.e., declared a saint -- any time soon, you're right. The odds are quite remote, at around 1 in 9.2 million. That's a rough estimate because in the early days of the church, many saints were canonized simply by popular demand, and we don't have comprehensive records of canonizations. If we assume that there are as many as 12,000 saints (and that's generous, as one estimate is that there could be more than 10,000) and there are very roughly 110 billion people who have ever lived, we arrive at the 1-in-9.2 million number.
No. 18: You're more likely to pick all "Sweet Sixteen" teams in the NCAA March Madness tournament
You start with 64 teams, divided into four sets of 16, and they play each other and eliminate each other, resulting first in 32 first-round winners and then 16 second-round winners -- the "Sweet Sixteen." It's been estimated that the odds of picking the correct winner in every single match up in a tournament are more remote than 1 in a billion -- making winning the lottery jackpot actually easier! But your odds of just picking all Sweet Sixteen teams correctly are also rather astronomical, estimated to be around 1 in 1.9 million last year, and that's far more likely to happen than your hitting the jackpot.
No. 19: You're more likely to die from being left-handed
This is a weird one. It seems that some left-handed people die from using things designed for right-handed people. If you're surprised about objects being made for lefties or righties, think back to grade school, and you might remember left-handed scissors. Or think of college, when you sat in chairs with small desk surfaces attached -- on the right side. More than 2,000 left-handed people reportedly die each year around the world because of using something designed for right-handed people. The odds of this happening are estimated to be 1 in 4.4 million. A common cause is using a power saw designed for the masses.
No. 20: You're more likely to become an astronaut
Ask a bunch of children what they'd like to be when they grow up, and one or more may say "astronaut!" It's a common dream, but just like dreaming of becoming a movie star or professional athlete, not one likely to come true. Just how unlikely is it? Well, it's been estimated that your odds of becoming an astronaut are about 1 in 12.1 million. You might improve your odds by studying engineering, science, and/or math, but some requirements may be out of your reach, such as being in good health.
No. 21: You're more likely to be killed by an asteroid or meteorite impact
If you tend to frequently cast your gaze upwards to make sure there's no asteroid heading for your head, you can relax. The odds of your being killed by an asteroid or meteor impact are quite slim, at 1 in 1.6 million. Interestingly, while there are various astrological events that can hurt or kill us, asteroid or meteor strikes are among the most common and are also ones that might be avoided, due to technology detecting them and dealing with them.
No. 22: You're more likely to be killed by a hippopotamus
Hippos may be cute, but they can be deadly, too, and about 3,000 people are killed by them annually around the world, resulting in odds of such a death of 1 in 2.5 million. Hippos are much more aggressive than they may seem, and they can run rather quickly for creatures that can weigh nearly three tons: They've been clocked moving at 14 miles per hour. If you're near hippos on foot or in water, keep your distance.
No. 23: You're more likely to date a supermodel
If you have hopes of dating a supermodel, know that while it's unlikely that you'll do so, it's still more likely to happen than your winning the lottery jackpot. Much, much more likely. It's been estimated that the odds of dating a supermodel are about 1 in 880,000. If you haven't given up hope, Men's Health magazine offered some ways that you might improve your odds: Don't assume she's shallow, be confident, and have good manners. Another way is mostly out of your control -- being on the tall side, as supermodels tend to be tall, too.
No. 24: You're more likely to have conjoined twins
It's a rare occurrence when a mother gives birth to conjoined twins, but it's not that rare. The odds have been estimated at about 1 in 200,000 by the University of Maryland Medical Center, making it far more likely to happen than your winning the lottery jackpot. The Center also notes that, "Approximately 40% to 60% of conjoined twins arrive stillborn, and about 35% survive only one day." Conjoined twins are most likely to be female, and the female ones have the greater survival rates.
No. 25: You're more likely to become a millionaire
That's right: You're far more likely to become a millionaire than to win a lottery jackpot that would make you a millionaire. That's because there are much more reliable ways to get wealthy than to gamble on lottery tickets. The U.S. stock market, for example, has averaged annual gains of close to 10% over long period of time. That's enough to turn 30 years' worth of $5,600 annual investments into $1 million.
Save aggressively, invest effectively (perhaps by parking long-term savings in a low-fee broad-market index fund), and be patient, and your odds of being financially secure by retirement are higher than you'd think. About 1 in 30 Americans is a millionaire.
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