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updated: 3/30/2012 5:53 AM

Mega Millions by the numbers

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Barbara Gonzalez, chairwoman of Roosevelt University's department of mathematics and actuarial science, helps us calculate the odds of winning the $500 million Mega Millions jackpot.

The odds

• The odds of one ticket bearing all six correct numbers is about 1 in 176 million. The math: Multiply 56 x 55 x 54 x 53 x 52 and then divide the total by 5 x 4 x 3 x 2, to determine the total number of combinations in the first pool of 56 balls. Multiple that answer, 3.82 million, by the 46 balls in the second Mega Ball group, for a total of 175,711,536.

Improving the odds

• Yes, buying more tickets improves the odds. Buying 100 tickets with different number combinations improves the chances to 1 in 1.75 million. You also have a 1 in 280,000 chance of getting hit by lightning and a 1 in 29.4 million chance of dying in a plane crash (while flying on one of the 30 safest airlines).

Lowering your expectations

• Matching all first five balls and missing out on the Mega Ball pays $250,000 (Odds: 1 in 3.9 million.) Matching four numbers and the Mega Ball pays $10,000 (Odds: 1 in about 689,000). Prizes decrease dramatically from there.

Those lucky numbers

• In the 706 Mega Millions drawings since June 22, 2005, "48" has come up 83 times in the first pool; compared to "41" just 48 times. In the Mega Ball drawing, "36" has come up 25 times compared to six times for "28."

"With chance, you get peaks and weird number repetitions," Gonzalez said. "Something's very wrong with that machine if there was a totally even distribution."

I'm a winner! What now?

• Immediately, sign the back of the ticket so no one else can claim it.

• Make a photocopy.

• Don't announce your good fortune on Facebook. Keep quiet and call a trusted attorney or financial planner to figure out your next move.

• Daily Herald staff writer Jake Griffin and wire servies contributed to this report.

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