South Africa’s R120 million Powerball jackpot – here are your actual odds of winning

 ·24 Jan 2024

Another Powerball draw has passed with no winner, taking the total rollover to a guaranteed jackpot of R120 million – one of the biggest South African jackpots on record.

We’ve all imagined, “What would I do if I won the lottery?” – yet the odds of this dream becoming a reality are extremely slim.

The odds are so slim that you are 20,000 times more likely to be born with an extra toe than you are to win the South African lottery.

Yet the idea of spending R5 on a ticket to stand a chance of winning millions – often over R100 million – is extremely enticing, as it offers the dream of a very high reward for a very low risk.

The ten biggest jackpots from the South African National Lottery were all over R100 million, with the largest totalling R232,131,750 in 2019.

However, the odds of you joining this list of winners are infinitesimally small – 1 in 20,358,520, to be precise.

For the Powerball, the odds are even worse, with over 42,375,200 different combinations that one can play when choosing 5 out of 50 numbers and 1 out of 20 numbers.

To put these extreme numbers into perspective, your odds of being struck by lightning in South Africa are 1 in 350,000, according to the South African Weather Service (SAWS).

This means South Africans are 58 times more likely to get struck by lightning than they are to win the standard Lotto jackpot – and 121 times more likely to get struck than winning the Powerball.

Other events that are more likely include:

  • 5.4 (Lotto) to 11.3 (Powerball) times more likely to be attacked by a shark – 1 in 3.75 million odds.
  • 6.1 to 12.7 times more likely to win a gold Olympic medal – 1 in 3.33 million odds.
  • 1,628 to 3,390 times more likely to hit a hole-in-one while playing golf – 1 in 12,500 odds.
  • 400,000 to 830,000 times more likely to get a ticket to Taylor Swift’s 2023 Eras Tour – A 2% chance.

Never tell me the odds

While many lotto players may adopt Han Solo’s “Never tell me the odds” attitude, it is important to know whether your investment is worthwhile.

The South African lottery comprises 52 balls with a draw of six, putting the number of different possible combinations at 20,358,520 – which is where the 1 in 20,358,520 odds come from.

These odds are the same for each lotto draw, which occurs twice per week.

While you may think that if you play twice a week every week, your odds go up significantly, the rules of probability are unfortunately not in your favour.

This is because each lotto draw has its own independent probability. In other words, the odds of your ticket this week winning the jackpot are no greater than the odds of next week’s ticket being a winner.

Playing more frequently, however, can increase your chances of winning; yet each additional draw only increases your odds of winning by the smallest fraction.

For example, if you play from the eligible age of 18 until you hit the South African life expectancy of 65, you will have 47 years to play.

With two draws per week and a total of 104 per year across 47 years, you would have 4,888 opportunities to play.

The math says that, assuming you don’t miss a single draw, your chances of losing would still be 99.975%.

Consider this: if you were to buy one lottery ticket at each draw, you could expect to win once every 195,755 years – or every 3,011 lifetimes (using the average South African life expectancy of 65 years old).

Another perspective

If you decide that the odds of winning the Lotto are too small, you could invest your ticket-buying money into something with a better guarantee of return.

At R5 per ticket and two plays per week, your annual spend would be R520. Using the same 18–65-year age range as our Lotto calculations, you would have 47 years of investing.

Assuming a fixed Lotto ticket price, if you were to contribute R43 per month (roughly R520/12 months) into a savings account with a 7% interest rate over the 47 years, your projected balance would be R176,254, with a total investment of only R24,440.

It is worth noting that R176,254 in 47 years would only be worth around R11,396 in today’s money, according to Sanlam Reality’s Saving Calculator.

If you could get a 10% return through an investment index such as the S&P 500, your projected savings balance could be as high as R473,956, worth R30,645 in today’s terms.

This gives you a much better guarantee of a return on your money than the Lotto’s 99.975% chance of losing.

Read: 10 biggest lotto payouts in South African history

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