A lucky lottery player could strike it big this weekend, as both the Mega Millions and Powerball jackpots have climbed above $400 million apiece.
Friday night's Mega Millions drawing has a top prize of $405 million, with a lump sum option worth nearly $295 million, while Saturday's Powerball jackpot stands at $457 million, with a lump sum option of more than $331 million.
To win either of those prizes, someone would have to beat staggering odds. The odds of winning the Mega Millions jackpot are one in 302.5 million, according to the lottery game, while Powerball's odds are one in 292.2 million for the top prize.
Many lottery players employ tactics that they think (or hope) will improve their chances of winning, from playing every single week, to using "lucky" numbers like a birthday to playing the same numbers every time in the hopes that they'll eventually be selected, to only using Quick Pick, where lottery machines automatically select a group of numbers.
But there's a difference between what people think will work and what is actual mathematical probability.
In fact, there is only one proven way of boosting your chances to win the lottery, according to Harvard statistics professor Dr. Mark Glickman: Your odds only improve by buying more tickets for each game, he previously told CNBC Make It.
That's because the odds of winning any given lottery remain the same despite the numbers selected or even if you buy a ticket for every drawing. Whether you play the lottery every day, or you're buying your first-ever lottery ticket on a lark, the odds of winning any individual drawing or scratch-off ticket remain the same.
In fact, even if you've won the lottery once before, you still have the same odds of winning the next drawing as anyone else who buys a ticket. (Just ask multiple winners like Peggy Dodson, who in 2019 won a $1 million jackpot with a "Max-a-Million" scratch-off lottery ticket from the same Pennsylvania convenience store where she had purchased another scratch-off ticket that was a $100,000 winner only two years earlier.)
"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," Glickman said. "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 regularly buying lottery tickets — whether it's every day or every week — does not improve your odds of winning, because the odds of all lotteries are independent.
And even buying a few extra for a particular drawing doesn't improve your chances all that much, especially when the odds are roughly 300 million to one (as is the case with the current huge Powerball and Mega Millions jackpots). Buying five tickets would give you a five in 302 million chance of winning the current $405 million Mega Millions jackpot, which are better odds than just buying one ticket, but you're still far more likely to be struck by lightning.
Also, buying more tickets means that "the investment you make by playing multiple games also goes up and the payouts in a real lottery may vary," according to Dr. Lew Lefton, a faculty member at Georgia Tech's School of Mathematics. In other words, investing more money in a higher number of tickets might not always be worth the expense, Lefton previously told CNBC Make It.
"My advice is don't play the lottery and expect to win," Lefton added. "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."
Meanwhile, if you are lucky enough to win the lottery, financial experts typically 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%, which is withheld by the IRS before the money even makes it to a winner's bank account, along with state taxes that vary by state.