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Lottery Odds: Are Tickets Worth Your Money?

When you think of someone with a gambling problem, you probably envision someone blowing their entire paycheck on a blackjack table, or worse, their life’s savings. But playing the Canada lottery is also a form of gambling.

Now, there isn’t anything wrong with buying a couple of scratch-offs as a fun diversion every now and then, or even splurging on a Lotto Max ticket when the jackpot gets juicy. But when you look at just how much Canadians are giving to gaming agencies each year, and the actual lottery odds, you may want to reconsider buying them every day, especially if you’re struggling financially.

How Much Canadians Spend on Lottery

Here’s the most recent lottery statistics from Statista which reveal how much Canadians are spending on the lotto annually by province. Remember, these numbers are in billions of dollars.

Province Money Spent (in billions)
Ontario 3.8
Quebec 2.7
Western Canada 1.5
British Columbia 1.2
Atlantic 1.2

That’s a staggering 10.4 BILLION across the Great White North! And this doesn’t even factor in the Canadians on the U.S. border who regularly purchase Powerball tickets from our southern neighbors.

The Odds of Winning the Lottery in Canada

While the odds of winning the lottery are readily available, very few bother to check them out. According to the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Commission (OLG), your chance of winning the lottery is very slim!

  • Odds of winning any prize (per $5 play) with Lotto Max is 1 in 7 million
  • Odds of winning the Lotto Max jackpot is 1 in 33.3 million

Now, let’s add some more perspective to their numbers!

  • Odds of being attacked by a hippo: 1 in 2.5 million
  • Odds of being hit by a meteor impact: 1 in 1.6 million
  • Odds of being struck by lightning: 1 in 1 million

So, you have a better chance of being struck by lightning, a meteor, or a hippopotamus than you do winning any prize in the lottery.

Money Management Following a Lotto Win

Many lotto players dream of quitting their jobs and buying a sprawling mansion, a flashy new car, and designer duds, than spending the remainder of their days partying and traipsing around the globe on exotic vacations.

However, that’s often not the reality. Many lotto winners lack proper budgeting and money management skills. Additionally, gaining so much cash so fast can be overwhelming. So, many lottery winners wind up losing it all.

For example, Hamilton, Ontario resident Sharon Tirabassi is one of the Canadian lottery winners who lost it all. After a $10.5 million payout from the Lotto Super 7, she spent her fortune on that house, car, clothes, parties, and trips (not to mention sharing the wealth with family and friends). Now, nine years after cashing in, Tirabassi is once again living paycheque to paycheque and taking the bus to work. “You don’t think it’ll go (at the time), right?” Tirabassi says.

While most wouldn’t call this a happy ending, Tirabassi does say she’s better off today, and that she’s found purpose working part-time as a personal support worker while raising her kids, instead of partying and shopping.

But some lotto stories have a much bleaker ending. Surely you’ve heard of the “lotto curse.” These are stories in which tragedy befalls winners shortly after their windfall. We’re keeping this post upbeat, but if you’re interested in reading about them, check out this story from The National Post.

What to Do if You Win the Lottery in Canada

If you are one of those one-in-33.3-million lucky winners getting a major windfall, our best advice is to get a financial planner as soon as possible, as you’ll have a lot to consider. Most importantly, the financial advisor will be able to tell you how to best invest lottery winnings in Canada. A few things you’ll definitely want to discuss with your advisor:

It’s also wise to continue living frugally even after a win. In fact, some of the wealthiest people in the world follow a frugal lifestyle (it’s part of the reason they’re still wealthy!). One of the best ways to do this is by tracking your expenses and following a budget. We’ve created a free Budget Planner + Expense Tracker that you can download now.

Final Thoughts on Playing the Lottery

Gaming agencies are spending more than $450 million every year to get Canadians to buy more lottery tickets through feel-good ads and other promotions. Why? Because they know it’s a losing proposition for most players, and a big win for them! So, before you plunk down a few more loonies on lotto, think about whether you really want to line their pockets any further.

At Credit Canada, we understand that many folks are playing the lotto because they feel a win is their only way out of debt. We’re here to tell you, that’s simply not true! Give us a call today at 1 (800) 267-2272 – it’s free and confidential – or contact us online. We can discuss your financial situation to come up with a plan that works for you – and that doesn’t involve scratch-offs!

The Canadian lotto is a billion-dollar business, but what are your chances of winning the lottery? We look at lottery odds and more.

Lotteries: What are the odds?

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Canada’s biggest lottery jackpot — $54.3 million — was won by a group of 17 oil workers in Camrose, Alta., in October 2005.

What we spend on gambling, by income group

After-tax income Average expenditure Expenditure as percentage of total income
All Canadians $549 0.8
Less than $20,000 $491 3.6
$20,000 to $39,999 $539 1.8
$40,000 to $59,999 $527 1.1
$60,000 to $79,999 $555 0.8
$80,000 and over $618 0.5
Source: Statistics Canada Survey of Household Spending

Total ticket sales for that draw reached $99,474,164.

Out of almost 50 million tickets sold for that Lotto 6/49 draw, one extraordinarily lucky group had beaten the odds of one in 13,983,816.

It was Canada’s greatest attack of lottery fever. There have been a few since then, including a $50 million prize in Canada’s newest national lottery — Lotto Max. That was won by Marie and Kirby Fontaine of Sagkeeng First Nation, northeast of Winnipeg, in November 2009.

Those of us who do play the lottery — and approximately one-quarter of Canadians play weekly — have heard those odds many times before. Pay $2 and your odds of becoming a millionaire are approximately 1 in 14 million.

Your odds are even worse for winning Lotto Max. For $5, you buying a one in 28,633,528 chance at winning at least $15 million.

Those odds are so long that you are more likely to:

  • Be killed in a terrorist attack while travelling (1 in 650,000).
  • Die — during an average lifetime — of flesh-eating disease (1 in one million).
  • Be killed by lightning (1 in 56,439).

You are three times more likely to be killed in a traffic accident driving 16 kilometres to buy your ticket than winning the jackpot.

In 2002, you were about 10 times more likely to die after being bitten by a poisonous snake or lizard than to win a Lotto 6/49 jackpot. Odds for the snakebite death are one in 1,241,661, according to the U.S. National Safety Council.

Want to increase your chances? Buy 50 tickets a week. You are very likely to win the jackpot at least once — in 5,000 years.

Gambling revenues and profits, Canada

1992 2005
Gambling revenue $2.734 billion $12.984 billion
Profits from gambling $1.68 billion $7.101 billion
Gambling as share of total government revenue 1.9% 5.5%

Source: Statistics Canada

Say you’re standing on a football field. You’re blindfolded and holding a pin. A friend has released an ant on the field. Your chance of piercing that ant with your pin is about the same as winning a Lotto 6/49 jackpot. One in 14 million. Not exactly a sure bet.

You can increase your odds — for a price. You could try to buy enough tickets to cover all possible six number combinations, but at two bucks a shot, that comes out to $27,967,632.

Hardly seems worth the effort, even with the biggest jackpots, especially if two or three other people come up with the same idea.

“Theoretically, you could try,” Pister told CBCNews.ca. “But I don’t think your tickets could be processed in time for the draw.”

Pister adds that when jackpots hit record territory, the bulk of sales tend to be recorded on the day of the draw, particularly in the afternoon.

South of the border, jackpots for the Powerball lottery have reached as high as $365 million. A group of eight workers at the ConAgra Foods plant in Lincoln, Neb., took home that prize in February 2006. The group opted to take their win in a lump sum payment rather than as annual payments. That reduced their win to $177.3 million — before taxes.

To play the Powerball lottery, you select numbers from two pools of numbers. You pick five numbers from a pool of 55 numbered balls. The sixth number — the Powerball — is picked from the second pool of 42 numbers.

Before April 2005, the first pool of numbers contained 53 balls. By adding two balls to that pool, the odds of winning decreased from around 1 in 120.5 million to 1 in 146.1 million. The longer odds meant fewer jackpot winners, which allowed the money to be carried over to the next draw, creating even bigger jackpots.

Mike Orkin, a professor of statistics at California State University, East Bay, and author of What are the odds?, describes the odds of winning the Powerball lottery this way:

“Let’s say you have one friend in Canada, and you put everybody in Canada’s name on pieces of paper, and put them in a giant hat and draw one out at random. Then, you are 2½ times more likely to pick your one friend’s name than you are to win the Powerball jackpot if you buy a single ticket.”

What we spend on lotteries

Albertans spend the least on government-run lotteries ($225 per household) while residents of Nova Scotia spend the most ($278 per household).

Among one-person households, men spend more than twice as much on gambling than women – $763 a year compared to $369 a year. In those one-person households, men between the ages of 45 and 64 are the biggest spending group ($881) in their gender, while women over the age of 65 spend more than any other group ($435) of their gender.

Orkin notes that bigger jackpots drive higher ticket sales — but he says that won’t improve an individual’s chance of winning. It does, however, improve the odds that in that pool of ticket buyers, there will be a winning ticket.

Buying the first ticket will increase the chance to secure financial freedom. No ticket, no chance. One ticket, you’ve improved that to facing astronomical odds. Buying more than one ticket makes your chances a little less astronomical.

If you want to win big, consider taking that $10 a week you might spend on lottery tickets and investing it. After 35 years, you will be guaranteed $100,314.56 — if you get an eight per cent return on your investment. With a 10 per cent return, your weekly $10 would be worth a guaranteed $166,742.59. Make it $12 a week and at 10 per cent, you’ve squirrelled away $200,091.10 after 35 years. Again, guaranteed.

Of course, the whole equation goes out the window if you didn’t join the office lottery pool – and you’re the only one who shows up for work the day after the numbers are drawn.

You have a better chance of being struck by lightning than winning the jackpot in one of Canada's major lotteries. However, it does happen ]]>