Math Professor says Guessing a Random Social Security Number is only Three times harder than Winning Current Mega Millions Prize

What would you do with a billion dollars? That’s what a lot of people are asking themselves with the current Mega Millions jackpot topping $1 billion. But what are the true odds of someone picking or getting the lucky number, and how does it compare to other unlikely chances?

Steven Diaz is a mathematics professor at Syracuse University’s College of Arts and Sciences. Though he doesn’t plan to buy a ticket himself, he does offer his perspective below about the odds of other people getting the big prize.

He is available for questions and interviews ahead of the next drawing on Friday.

Q: If someone is looking at the overall odds of winning this major prize, what are they?

A: The odds are one out of 302,575,350.

Q: What other astronomical odds can you compare a lottery win to?

A: From the web, I got that the odds of getting struck by lightning in a given year are about one out of one million. That is about 300 times more likely than winning the Mega Millions jackpot with one ticket. Of course, you can increase your odds by buying multiple tickets.

Here is another comparison: There are one billion different possible social security numbers. So, if you try to randomly guess someone’s social security number, your chances of getting it right with one guess are one out of one billion. That is about three times harder than winning the Mega Millions jackpot with one ticket.

Q: Do you have better chances of winning by getting a computer-picked number or choosing your own digits?

A: As all numbers are equally likely the chances of winning are the same whether you make the choice yourself or have the computer do it. There is one more thing to consider: you not only would like to win you would like to be the only winner so you do not have to split the jackpot. If you choose it yourself, unless you are careful, you might fall into some patterns and choose a number that other people have chosen. If the computer has a good random number generator, it would be less likely to choose the same number as someone else. On the other hand, if you do a study on which numbers people tend to choose, perhaps you could do better than the computer. Remember I am discussing trying to increase your chances of being the only winner if you win, not increasing your chances of winning.