These people won the lottery multiple times, taking home millions—a Harvard prof. talks odds

Janet Pflaumer-Phillips, Diamond Millions scratch-off winner.
Source: Massachusetts Lottery

The recent multimillion-dollar jackpots on offer from the Powerball and Mega Millions lotteries have had many Americans salivating at the idea of becoming instant millionaires.

While the odds of winning a massive lottery jackpot like Saturday night's $350 million Powerball drawing are astronomical (roughly 1 in 292 million, in fact), that won't stop millions of people from buying lottery tickets this weekend. In fact, lottery ticket sales generate roughly $80 billion of revenue annually in the US, as players hope to become the latest person who beat the odds to win a once-in-a-lifetime jackpot.

But, for some especially lucky people, that once-in-a-lifetime luck inexplicably strikes more than once.

In fact, there are many recent stories of people who have been lucky enough to win the lottery multiple times — whether it's a $1,000 prize or a $1 million jackpot.

Winning, and winning again

In May, 72-year-old Peggy Dodson won a $1 million jackpot from a "Max-a-Million" scratch-off lottery ticket that she bought at the same Pennsylvania convenience store where she'd purchased another scratch-off ticket that turned out to be a $100,000 winner just two years earlier.

Lottery winner Peggy Dodson poses with her husband, Ottis, and a $1 million prize check.
Source: Pennsylvania Lottery

Dodson has a daily habit of buying lottery tickets with no plans to stop. "I don't drink. I don't smoke. But I love to play the lottery," she told the Lancaster Online newspaper.

When Janet Pflaumer-Phillips, 59, won $1 million from a "Diamond Millions" scratch-off lottery ticket last month, it was technically her first big lottery win. But if you count the two times her husband, Kevin Phillips, won his own separate $1 million prizes (in 2014 and 2016), then that made three wins for the couple overall, and a total of $3 million.

Kevin Phillips and Janet Pflaumer-Phillips in 2016.
Source: Massachusetts Lottery

Pflaumer-Phillips told The Boston Globe she and her husband have been buying lottery tickets regularly for the past 20 years, and she plans to use some of her winnings to fund a trip to Disney World.

And Eugene Martellio, of Vineland, N.J., won a $3 million grand prize playing the "CA$H OUT" scratch-off lottery game in April, just two years after winning more than $730,000 from a Jersey Cash 5 lottery drawing. But Martellio doesn't want to stop there, as he told lottery officials he's still hoping for a third win sometime this year, possibly from a massive Mega Millions or Powerball drawing.

Here are the odds of you winning the lottery
Here are the odds of you winning the lottery

So does buying tickets regularly increase your odds of winning?

It would be easy to think that someone would have to be one of the luckiest people alive to win the lottery multiple times. Surely, if you win the lottery once, the odds of you winning again would have to skyrocket, right? Well, not exactly.

"If someone already wins the lottery, then the chance that the person wins the lottery a second time will be exactly the same as the probability they win the lottery if they had not previously won the lottery before," Harvard statistics professor Dr. Mark Glickman tells CNBC Make It.

"In other words, having previously won the lottery does not improve or make less likely the chance of winning the lottery in the future."

That also means that buying lottery tickets on the regular — every day or every week, for example — does not up your odds of winning, because the odds of all lotteries are independent.

However, there is one way to boost your chances of winning the lottery, says Glickman: Your odds do improve by buying more tickets for each game.

Of course, buying a couple of extra tickets isn't going to change the fact that winning a big pot is long shot. Plus, when you buy more tickets, "the investment you make by playing multiple games also goes up and the payouts in a real lottery may vary," points out Dr. Lew Lefton, a faculty member at Georgia Tech's School of Mathematics. So investing more money in a higher number of tickets might not always be worth the expense, Lefton says.

"My advice is don't play the lottery and expect to win," Lefton adds. "That said, it can be fun to play the lottery and imagine you win. That's a different approach, and it's just like any other gambling: You should only be willing to spend what you can afford to lose."

Of course, if you do win the lottery, financial experts usually advise you to take the lump sum option (and invest your winnings in long-term stocks), rather than taking multi-year annuity payments. And, no matter what, you're sure to face a sizable tax hit from any lottery winnings over $5,000, with the minimum federal tax charge on lottery winnings being 24%, along with state taxes that vary by state.

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