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Mega Millions and a possible 'Mega Headache': What winning the money means

Odds vs. Chances: Billion Dollar Mega Millions Jackpot
Odds vs. Chances: Billion Dollar Mega Millions Jackpot 02:42

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – Someone could wake up tomorrow with their life changed forever.

Tonight's Mega Millions jackpot is worth $1.1 billion and that can feed a lot of dreaming.

With all that money on the line, what are the odds versus chances of winning?

What you need to know is that there is a difference.

When the jackpots reach the stratosphere of hope, Associate Professor of Mathematical Sciences at Carnegie Mellon University Michael Young said his phone starts ringing.

"This happens quite often and I give them the same truth that I'm giving you," he said.

Dr. Mark Glickman at the Harvard University Department of Statistics gets those same calls as well.

"Well, I think all the smart people know there's pretty much no help I can give them because there's nothing you could do to improve the odds," he laughed.

So, let's start there: the odds.

"There's about 302 million ways the balls can be drawn," Young said.

"The probability that you would win the lottery on any one pick is going to be 1-303 million," added Dr. Glickman.

Ok, so, those are the odds but can improve your chances.

"You absolutely can buy more tickets," said Young.

"If you buy more tickets, of course, that improves your chances," Dr. Glickman agreed.

Should you buy 10 tickets, you have ten chances, but each chance still faces those 1-303 million odds.

"It's hard to see an opportunity to earn a billion dollars come by and not do something especially if it only costs $2," Young said.

If you were to win, how badly would the tax fee be? The feds want 37-percent but only withhold 24-percent so you have to come up with the other 13 at tax time.

The very rough numbers - $1.1 billion: take the cash, a little over $603 million minus taxes and you're looking at about $362 million.

Lump sum vs. Annuity: Which is better? 03:33

Now, with all that money, wouldn't it be nice to think about all the people you could help, not having to worry about debt and bills, but first…you must win.

Ignoring the fact that everyone else in the country is trying too and everyone faces the odds of 1-303 million.

"With enough people playing across the country, we expect someone to win," Young stated.

Young said picking your own numbers isn't actually an advantage.

"Whatever numbers you picked, it's the same chance probability that the computer picks," he explained.

In fact, Dr. Glickman said that choosing birthdays, anniversaries, etc…is not a good idea.

"If you pick those kinds of numbers as your lottery picks, you're probably going to be having somebody else that's going to make those same picks," he explained. "The problem is that if that lottery number wins, you're going to split the cash price with those people."

The experts say that quick picks are the better way to isolate your winning ticket.

If you do win, do you take the lump sum or the full billion through annuity?

"If you're somebody who's pretty young, where you know you're pretty sure you're going to be alive in 30 years, that actually might be a reasonable way to go," Dr. Glickman said.

But – a word of warning about the annuity checks.

"It starts out with a relatively small-ish amount, it's not just simply the total price divided by 30 - it's less than that," Dr. Glickman said. "Then it increases I think five-percent year by year."

After taxes, that means your first check would be just under $10 million and it would increase each year so by the last check you would get $41 million.

If you have plans to share the money, be careful. There is a history of lawsuits against lottery winners based on their off-handed comments that they would share and people taking those comments seriously.

So, make sure you have lawyers and accountants ready…also, remember what you promised.

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