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Long odds of winning record Mega Millions doesn't deter buyers

William Landron of Glen Cove, 87, poses for

William Landron of Glen Cove, 87, poses for a portrait with the Mega Millions ticket he purchased at the Sunoco station on Glen Cove Avenue in Glen Cove on Monday. Credit: Barry Sloan

A record lottery drawing of $1.6 billion gets you thinking. So you buy a handful of tickets, hoping it will increase your odds of winning the Big One.

But does buying five lottery tickets really bump up the chances of winning the $1.6 billion Mega Millions drawing Tuesday or the $620 million Powerball drawing on Wednesday?

Well, yes, but . . .

"It's still witheringly low odds," said Bruce Torff, who works with statistics as a Hofstra University professor of educational psychology.

Torff is a numbers guy, and he takes them seriously. He pointed out that the odds of a single ticket winning the Mega Millions jackpot is about 302 million to 1, while the odds for Powerball are slightly better at 292 million to 1.

Buying five Mega Million tickets makes the odds five times better, but it still only bring down the odds to one in 61 million, Torff said.

"I know, it's such a buzzkill, a killjoy," Torff said. "You'll never see a statistician buying a lottery ticket."

The $1.6 billion payout is the largest lottery prize ever, surpassing the $1.59 billion Powerball jackpot drawn in 2016. 

Odds, statistics and other reality checks were hardly on the minds of people streaming in to buy lottery tickets at the Sunoco gas station in Glen Cove.

As a lottery ad broadcast across the islands of gas pumps — "Do you want to be a millionaire?" — station manager Mohammad Kabir punched out tickets for people. 

He's enjoying a boost in business with all these extra people coming in. "We had someone buy $100 worth of tickets," he said.

Glen Cove resident Jackie Wilson, 64, picked up two Mega Millions tickets. She said she only plays the lottery "when it's big."

She held no illusions about her chances to win."I only do it so I can sit there and dream about what I'd spend the money on," Wilson said. That includes a house by the water and annuities for all her grandchildren.

And one more thing. "I'd want a nice car, a nice, nice car. Something that makes a lot of noise and goes fast."

Just buying a ticket brought a smile to William Landron, 87. Talking about it got him laughing out loud.

"Oh, I'd help everybody," said the man who's lived in Glen Cove for 40 years. "And I'd buy a house."

At a time like this, with so much money in the offing, he doesn't think about odds.

"I think I'm going to win," he said with a hearty chuckle. 

Rob Surico, 66, bought four tickets but conceeded: "You're throwing your money away, and you know it."

And the Bay terrace man did have a profitable brush with the lottery years ago. Surico recalled buying a winning lottery ticket in the nineties. He hit five of the six numbers, and missed the sixth by only one digit.

"I won $3,046," he said. "I took my wife on a vacation."

Torff, the Hofstra professor, said he understands people's desire to drop a few bucks and dream big. But he gets upset when he sees people, especially people who don't have much, shelling out lots of money for dozens of tickets.

Throwing down a few dollars for some thrilling moments of reverie, however, is fine, he said. And that started the numbers guy noodling around with some figures, should a person win.

For instance, how much would a person have to spend each day to deplete all those winnings?

Let's say the winner was a 57-year-old male. According to Torff, he'd have about 21 years to spend down all that cash, considering the average life span. If he took the cash payout option of $905 million, and accounted for the federal and state taxes, he'd have about $490 million.

"He'd have to spend about $64,000 a day for the rest of his life," Torff said.

The professor himself has never bought a lottery ticket and doesn't expect he will this time around.

"If you spend five dollars on the lottery, you end up with nothing," he said. "If you spend five dollars on coffee, at least you're getting some coffee."

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