Playing Powerball? Here's what you need to know.

Source: Powerball.com

Source: Powerball.com

With the jackpot at an estimated $500 million, you might be tempted to get a ticket for tonight's drawing. Here's what you should know before you put down your $2 bet.

  • If your goal is to split the jackpot with as few people as possible, pick numbers over 31 and/or consecutive numbers. Many people use dates as their "lucky" numbers. A lot of people also think that consecutive strings of numbers (e.g., 5, 6, 7, 8) are less likely to win. So if you want to share the jackpot with fewer people, pick less popular numbers (over 31), and try consecutive strings.
  • You can't predict tonight's numbers based on past numbers. Really. Lotto Stats magazine actually stated, “The more information you have in front of you, the better your chances of winning...” That's not true, because pulling lottery balls out of a bin is a truly random event. And in truly random events, past data doesn't matter when you're trying to forecast the future. For example, if you flip a coin 10 times and it comes up heads every time, there’s still a 50 percent chance the next one will be heads. A lot of people don’t understand this—a phenomenon known as the gambler’s fallacy (thinking you’re going to win after a streak of losses). 
  • "Odds" and "probability" are not the same. CNN says "The odds are now 1 in 292 million against you winning" the jackpot. The odds of something happening, statistically speaking, is the ratio of favorable outcomes (winning the lottery, in this case) to unfavorable outcomes (not winning). Probability, on the other hand, is the likelihood that an outcome will occur. If you have a deck of cards, for example, the odds of pulling a face card (Jack, Queen or King) are 12:40 (there are 12 face cards and 40 non-face cards). But the probability that you'll pull a face card is 23 percent (there are 12 of these cards in the deck, and 12 divided by 52 is 23 percent). Make sure you understand the difference between odds and probability if you're playing the lottery.

Good luck tonight—and don't forget about us when you win big.