*03/30 update: looks like the jackpot is now up to a whopping $640 million.

$540 million. That’s the estimated payout for Friday’s Mega Millions lotto drawing. Interestingly, you could buy all of the possible combinations of numbers for around $176 million. You’d better hope that you don’t have to split those winnings though. Your lump sum payout after taxes would be a multi-million dollar loss if there is so much as one other winner.

Anyhow, everyone always talks about the lottery being a tax on people who are bad at math. True story; but, I decided to have a look at the odds anyhow (mainly because I like math). To put your odds of winning into perspective, here are a few comparisons:

The odds are about the same as…

Suppose I went on a trip and met every single person in every single city in the largest 11 states in the US (California, Texas, New York, Florida, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Georgia, North Carolina, and New Jersey). On my journey I secretly gave one random person a gold coin to stick in his or her back pocket. Your task is to pick one random person out of these 11 states. The odds of you picking the same person with the gold coin in his or her back pocket are about the same as winning the $540 million jackpot by purchasing 1 ticket.

Suppose you walked into your 15×15 foot living room one day and the entire room was 1 foot deep in grains of rice. One of the grains of rice is brown. The others are white. Your odds of winning the $540 million jackpot are about the same as picking the one brown grain of rice while blindfolded. (approximately 7,000 grains of rice in a cup – per the all reliable wikianswers, 119.688312 cups per cubic foot, you can do the math from there)

Suppose that I spent last month shuffling 3,384,000 regulation decks of playing cards without jokers. In the midst of my shuffling, I randomly stuck in one joker. You randomly select one card from my 3,384,000 decks of cards. The odds of winning the $540 million are about the same as you randomly selecting the joker.

The odds of winning the $540 million jackpot are about the same as flipping a coin and it landing on tails 27 times in a row. (0.5)^27

Suppose that you mount 5 brand new Sharp 85 inch TVs on your living room wall. (suppress the thought of how legendary this would be and continue reading…) Blindfolded, I randomly select one tiny pixel on this wall of glory. The odds of you, also blindfolded, randomly selecting the same tiny pixel as I did are about the same as winning the $540 million jackpot.

Suppose Jerry Jones fires himself and the Cowboys win the Superbowl. The odds of winning the lottery are about the same as that happening.

Good luck, everyone!