$550 Million Powerball: What Are Your Chances?

The odds of winning tonight's (Nov. 28) historic $550 million Powerball jackpot are estimated at 1 in 175 million. If that figure seems encouraging, then it may be time to insure yourself against a donkey attack.

That's because the probability that you'll be killed by a belligerent donkey this year is on the same order of magnitude as the probability of a win tonight.

Records on donkey-attack deaths aren't perfect, but a cautious estimate based on reported incidents puts the chance at about 1 in 300 million. Still, like lottery wins, rogue donkey murders can and do happen, and an American who's not a donkey handler does seem to have a slightly better chance of winning the lottery than succumbing to a long ear.

On the other hand, an American is also close to 20,000 times more likely to be struck by lightning in her lifetime than she is to win tonight. The odds of being hit by lightning during an 80-year life are about 1 in 10,000.

But those who insist on keeping a sunny outlook about tonight's drawing might draw faith from Roy Sullivan, a Virginia park ranger who beat the odds and managed to be struck by lightning seven times in a span of just 35 years, surviving each time. (Tragically, Sullivan also joined another rarified statistical group, when he chose to kill himself at age 71 over an unrequited love.)

Anyone who still likes their Powerball odds will probably have competition from at least 19 new mothers in Minneapolis. They're likely feeling lucky after contributing to a streak of 19 male births in a row over the weekend at the University of Minnesota Medical Center, as reported by the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

In any given hospital at any given moment, there's about a 1 out of 500,000 probability that the next 19 births will all be boys.

So, if you find a doctor to give you betting odds on another 19-boy streak (Life's Little Mysteries does not endorse illegal gambling), your chances of winning big are 350 times better than with a Powerball ticket. 

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