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Powerball hits $80m: here are your chances of winning

A results report for Tatts Group Ltd.’s Powerball lottery game is displayed at a newsagent’s store in Melbourne, Australia, on Thursday, Dec. 15, 2016. Photographer: Carla Gottgens/Bloomberg

Australians are snapping up tickets for tonight’s $80 million Powerball draw, but this behaviour is all emotion and no logic, according to the odds.

The chances of winning the division one prize in Powerball is a staggering 134,490,400 to 1. Meanwhile an Australian has a one in 12,000 chance of getting hit by lightning, according to News Corp.

This means you’re more than 11,000 times more likely to be struck by an electrical bolt from the sky than win Powerball.

Previously, Yahoo News found drowning in a bathtub (1 in 840,000 chance), being killed by a flying asteroid (1 in 700,000) and getting crushed by a vending machine (1 in 10 million) were all more likely than scoring the Powerball division one prize.

So why do otherwise rational people go crazy for big lottery jackpots?

Dr Paul Harrison of Deakin University says that research shows when people undertake mundane, everyday tasks, brain areas related to rational planning are far more active.

But when thinking about exciting one-off activities, like imagining a life with $80 million, the brain areas linked with emotion starts taking over.

“When it comes to buying something that is based purely on chance, such as a lottery ticket, it’s our emotions that make the decision – there is simply nothing rational about it,” Harrison wrote in a 2009 blog post.

“Once we’ve made the decision, the optimism bias kicks in to protect our ego.”

‘Optimism bias’ bloats our perception of the chances of winning, causing punters to happily hand over their money at a newsagent.

Dr Harrison says that being optimistic is not a bad thing — such mechanisms help prevent depression. But being aware of the maths is handy before buying that lottery ticket.

“Don’t take any notice of systems, past patterns, most frequently drawn numbers, etc. There is no statistical basis in which to believe that the numbers that come up are anything more than random chance,” he wrote.

“Each number has an equal chance of being chosen… every time (unless it has already been chosen, obviously). And, your chances of winning are not reduced or increased by the number of people who put in an entry (although the prize pool may be).”

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