Don't go buying Big Macs like crazy to play McDonald's Monopoly game

You're 10 times more likely to die from a fireworks accident than win big cash in the McDonald's Monopoly game, but that won't stop people from choosing McDonald's over any other fast-food place for a few weeks as they try to win a game payout of up to $1 million.

After all, as lottery ads often say, "You can't win if you don't play." And just so you know what you're getting into before buying Big Macs by the armful, know that you're three times as likely to win the Mega Millions jackpot than you are to get the Park Place stamp and Boardwalk stamp for the top $1 million prize in McDonald's Monopoly, where the odds of winning the million is 1 in 542,034,000.

As a woman in Texas recently found out, there are many ways to win the game beyond collecting game pieces from drinks and other McDonald's containers. She won through some random drawing by the company online, where code numbers from game pieces can be entered for a second chance at winning.

The personal finance and frugal living Web site Wisebread recently wrote about the odds of finding a particular piece from each set and how they're never in the player's favor because there are limited numbers of certain pieces that are made.

For example, there are three Boardwalk pieces somewhere among the millions of Monopoly pieces out among the millions of McDonald's cups and containers being sold in the promotion. Only a Park Place is needed with the rare Boardwalk piece to win $1 million.

It's similar for the yellow pieces and Ventnor Avenue, of which there are five pieces available in a vain attempt to win $25,000.

There are plenty of people on eBay or Craigslist selling the common Monopoly pieces, but buying them for more than the price of a stamp seems worthless because they're so easy to find.

As Wisebread points out, if you have one of the few pieces it lists that can lead to some money, you've practically already won and just need to get the rest of the set with a few common pieces.

What's funny is the Craigslist poster who has a rare Boardwalk piece and is willing to pay $100 for Park Place. That's like giving it away for $100 in the real Monopoly board game to someone who owns Boardwalk. The McDonald's payout is $1 million so you'd think the missing piece would be worth nearly half that amount.

That Craigslist post went up Oct. 19 in the San Francisco Bay Area. Three days earlier, a Park Place game piece owner offered to split the prize with anyone with a Boardwalk piece.

I don't know if they've found each other yet, but the Boardwalk owner will likely have some news for the Park Place owner: The prize isn't $10 million, as the Park Place owner thought it was in the ad ... only $1 million.

If they want to get that much money, they have to play the California Mega Millions lottery game for its estimated prize of $12 million. The odds of winning the jackpot are three times as better, too: one in 175,711,536.

Aaron Crowe is a freelance journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area who can be reached at www.AaronCrowe.net

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