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Fortune cookie payout in Powerball


Curious incidents occur time and again in the countless lotteries around the globe. One such incident occurred in 2005 with the US game "Powerball". One day there were 110 players who won the second prize category with five correct numbers. Each of them collected at least 100,000 US dollars, and as many as 21 players even received half a million.

It is often the case that several players hit five correct numbers. However, three-digit winning numbers in the second prize category are more than unusual. This was also the opinion of the authorities, who immediately assumed a possible fraud or some kind of manipulation. Therefore, the issue was subjected to a thorough investigation.

A fortune cookie worthy of its name

It turned out that the lucky winners had taken their numbers from a fortune cookie produced by a company from New York. None of the manufacturer's employees had tipped either, and the players each came from completely different cities. This was sufficient to rule out the possibility of foul play beyond any doubt.

The winnings were then actually paid out and the fortune cookie with the Powerball numbers "22 - 28 - 32 - 33 - 39 - 40" will probably remain in the memory of the winners for a long time. The attentive reader will have noticed that six numbers were included. The last one actually did not match the 42 drawn at the time. If that had been the case, the 110 players would have cracked the jackpot and been paid more than $250,000 each.

Not an isolated case

Winning the lottery with numbers from a fortune cookie sounds like a unique story. However, it has happened more often than not that some people have found a sudden windfall this way. In 2021, a man in North Carolina collected $500,000 after hitting the numbers he found in a fortune cookie from a Chinese takeaway.

Even much luckier was a retiree who won no less than $344.6 million in the U.S. in 2019. When asked about his lucky numbers, he said that they came from a fortune cookie he had received from his granddaughter two years earlier. He could hardly have dreamed that this small gesture would help him win such a gigantic amount of money.

Nothing but mathematics

As crazy as these and other stories sound, they are ultimately normal. Because which numbers are drawn in the lottery is pure chance every time. So there is always the possibility that the numbers from a fortune cookie will be drawn. Since millions of fortune cookies are produced not only with clever sayings, but also with different winning numbers in each case, the probability is high that one or the other time there will be a hit.

However, this does not mean that it would be a particularly ingenious strategy to bet only on numbers from fortune cookies in the future. This is especially true for industrially produced cookies. There, the probability is high that someone else had the same idea and that, in the event of a win, the jackpot will be split. What's more, the probability of drawing any other combination of numbers is exactly the same as with numbers from fortune cookies.        

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