The Math Guy:
What Does The New Mega Millions offer?

October 31, 2017, was the first draw of the US Mega Millions with the new rules. So why change a popular lottery which reached a record jackpot of $656m in 2012?

It’s true that the Powerball has had even higher jackpots a few times, but these super-high jackpots are not even reached once a year, so we must look deeper to understand the change.

Why has it changed?

Mega Millions is drawn on Tuesdays and Fridays and Powerball follows with draws on Wednesdays and Saturdays. This means that when players place their bets for Mega Millions, they can already see the advertised Powerball jackpot for the following day.

Doing a bit of analytics on our database, which covers the last few years, yields that 60% of the time the players would see that the Powerball jackpot that follows the Mega Millions draw was higher. The effect of this is that more players will choose to play Powerball, this in turn gives Mega Millions less money for a rollover which makes it more difficult for the Mega Millions to keep up with Powerball.

One could argue that it was at least slightly easier to win the Mega Millions jackpot than the Powerball jackpot. True, but even this managed to make the situation worse for Mega Millions. Once won, the jackpot was reset to $15m whereas the Powerball jackpot is reset to $40m. Starting more often at $15m combined with adding smaller amounts for rollovers made Mega Millions no longer competitive.

How has it changed?

You don’t need to be a math geek to solve one of the problems: Simply start with the same minimum jackpot as Powerball. And that’s what they did: The new Mega Millions now has a minimum jackpot of $40m.

To stay roughly on par with Powerball, they had to make sure that it wouldn't be won more often. To solve this problem they needed to change the odds of winning the jackpot. But one cannot just change the odds of winning the jackpot; the number of balls or Mega Balls must change in order to alter the odds of winning the other prizes too. So, here is what they did:

The main numbers are now 5 out of 70, changed from 5 out of 75. I hear you shout: “Stop that makes it even easier to win!” True, but they increased the Mega Ball from 1 out of 10 to 1 out of 25. So, the odds of winning the jackpot and the second prize are now roughly on par with the ones from Powerball.

What Are The Odds?

The new odds for winning the Mega Million jackpot are 1 in 302 million (previously 1 in 258 million), vs the Powerball odds for the jackpot, which are 1 in 292 million. Working out the math for the 2nd prize yields odds of 1 in 12.6 million (previously 1 in 18 million), vs Powerball’s 1 in 11.7 million.

Since they decreased the number of balls in the drum from 75 to 70, all the winnings which do not involve matching the Mega Ball are now easier to win. These are: match 5 (2nd prize), match 4 (4th prize), and match 3 (6th prize).

The prize awarded for matching 4 and 5 numbers stays the same. The prize awarded for matching 3 numbers was increased from $5 to $10. The prizes which involve matching the Mega Ball are harder to win, but the prize awards have increased.

You will see slightly higher jackpots, some prizes are harder to win and some easier, but overall the prize awards are either the same or higher than before.

I find the new Mega Millions a more attractive lottery than the old one – go for it.

The Math Guy is actually a wizard who lives in our basement, where he spends his days doing various statistical calculations to help you better understand the world of lotteries. He can take anything you throw at him, as long as it’s numbers and not cabbages or angry cats.

Got a question for The Math Guy? Get in touch, and he’ll do everything in his power to help.