CHICAGO Eight months after a trio of ticket buyers split a $656 million Mega Millions jackpot to set a world lottery record, Powerball is offering up a prize that would be the second-highest.
The $425 million jackpot, the largest in Powerballs history, represents a potential life-changing fortune. But before shelling out $2 for a ticket, here are some things to consider:
A good bet: Someone will win
Its the gamblers mantra: Somebodys gotta win, so why not me?
The first part is true; somebody will win the Powerball jackpot.
Chuck Strutt, executive director of Multi-State Lottery Association, predicts theres about a 60 percent chance itll happen Wednesday maybe better if theres a flurry of last-minute ticket purchasers picking unique numbers.
The jackpot already has defied long odds by rolling over 16 consecutive times without anyone hitting the big prize, which now stands at $425 million ($278.3 million cash value). Strutt puts the odds at around 5 percent there would be no winner in the entire run, including Wednesday.
As the drought increases, so too will the chances of it ending on the next draw, because ticket sales spike with a growing jackpot.
Someone will win. Eventually.
A bad bet: It will be you
Its true to say that you have a better chance of being struck by lightning than winning the Powerball. But that woefully understates the danger of lightning.
Tim Norfolk, a University of Akron mathematics professor who teaches a course about gambling, puts the odds of a lightning strike in a persons lifetime at 1 in 5,000. The odds of winning the Powerball jackpot: 1 in 175 million.
While weather is the go-to analogy for such astronomical odds, Norfolk suggests there are better ones.
For example, youd have a slightly better chance of randomly picking the name of one specific female in the United States: 1 in 157 million, according to the latest census.
Victory loves company
Should you win the jackpot, theres a good chance youll have to share and not just with family, friends and Uncle Sam.
The odds of someone winning increase as the ticket sales do. So, too, do the odds of duplicate tickets, especially for people who choose their own numbers rather than letting the computers pick.
Prefer the lucky numbers of 7 or 11? Youre not alone. How about a loved ones birthday? Its 31 or lower digits more frequently duplicated than 32 and up. (There are 59 white balls and 35 red balls in the draw).
Norfolk predicts that if there is a winner, there will be multiple ones because mathematical theory shows that numbers have a way of clustering, even at much smaller sample sizes.
If you take 23 random people, theres about a 50-50 chance that at least two will have the same birthday, Norfolk said. Throw choice into the equation about 20 percent of players typically select their own numbers and the clusters could be even more defined. That played out in March, when three tickets from Kansas, Maryland and Illinois split the world-record $656 million Mega Millions jackpot.
A single ticket holds Powerballs current record of $365 million in 2006, shared by several ConAgra Foods Workers in Lincoln, Neb.
Feeling lucky in a bad economy
Gambling experts say a majority of Americans will play some lottery game at least once in a given year.
Clyde Barrow, director of the Center for Policy Analysis at UMass-Dartmouth, says addicted gamblers are less likely to turn to massive jackpot ticket games like Powerball than scratch-off games.
Scratch-off players are looking for instant gratification and an instant win, Barrow said. A lot of those people dont like playing lotto because you have to wait. You have to sit on it for a few days.
While it may seem counterintuitive, Barrow says gambling activity often increases as the economy gets worse and people have less disposable income. However, his research which focused mainly on New England found the trend reversed in the latest downturn.
The Great Recession has been so deep and so long, its suppressed any kind of discretionary spending across the board, said Barrow, who added about the same percentage of people are playing the lottery theyre just buying fewer tickets.
Strutt, Powerballs executive director, said sales largely stayed flat during the peak of the recession in 2008 and 2009, but picked up since.
Our biggest factor is gas prices, he said. If people go to a gas station and put 80 bucks of gas in their car, theyre not feeling happy to buy a lottery ticket.
Is it a good investment?
You already know the answer to that. Yet people play anyway.
Strutt is estimating that there will be $214 million in sales for Wednesdays drawing (up from $140 million from Saturdays drawing).
Half the proceeds go to the prize pool about a third of that to the big jackpot, with the rest to lower ones, including a new $1 million second prize. The other half goes to the lottery operations in the 42 states plus Washington, D.C., and the Virgin Islands where Powerball is played. This funds charitable efforts such as education, in addition to paying for overhead and compensating winning stores.
Barrow says its no secret that its not a prudent investment to regularly buy lottery tickets, but contends its a little more defensible as the amount skyrockets.
If the jackpot amount approached $600 million, and if you had the means to buy enough tickets until you won, AND if you could guarantee you wouldnt have to share with anyone, then it might be a wise investment.
Thats a lot of ifs, Barrow says. But hell likely join the throngs of ticket buyers.
For 2 bucks, its worth a chance, he said. What else am I going to do with that $2? Ill just waste it on something else.