TIME Lottery

The Powerball Jackpot Is Set to Reach $450 Million

A store clerk hands a customer his Powerball ticket at a local grocery store in Hialeah, Fla., Wednesday, Feb. 4, 2015
Alan Diaz—AP A store clerk hands a customer his Powerball ticket at a local grocery store in Hialeah, Fla., Wednesday, Feb. 4, 2015

But you're far more likely to play in the NBA than win this haul

The odds of winning the Powerball Grand Prize are 1 in 175,223,510. For this week, however, you can keep believing.

No one claimed Powerball’s estimated $394 million jackpot over the weekend, meaning the prize for the next draw will be around $450 million (or $304.1 million for a cash payout) according to the Powerball website.

That’s $140 million short of the record $590.5 million — won on May 18, 2013 by 84-year-old Gloria Mackenzie of Zephyrhills, Fla. — but who’s complaining?

The next draw will be held on Wednesday, Feb. 11.

TIME Lottery

Powerball Jackpot Hits $380 Million

A store clerk pulls a Powerball ticket after being printed for a customer at a local grocery store in Hialeah, Fla. on Feb. 4, 2015.
Alan Diaz—AP A store clerk pulls a Powerball ticket after being printed for a customer at a local grocery store in Hialeah, Fla. on Feb. 4, 2015.

The odds of winning are 1 in 175 million

The Powerball jackpot will be up to $380 million on Saturday, one of the largest in the lottery’s history.

Powerball jackpots begin at $40 million and increase with each drawing that fails to produce a winner. The biggest Powerball jackpot ever awarded was $590.5 million in 2013, Reuters reports.

Powerball is played in 44 U.S. states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands. But before you run out to buy a ticket with hopes of the $380 million in your future, remember that the odds of winning are 1 in 175 million.

TIME Bizarre

How 7 Seconds Cost a Man $21 Million

Getty Images

Joel Ifergan's winning lottery ticket printed out seconds too late

A Québécois man missed out on winning a lottery jackpot worth $21.4 million (27 million Canadian dollars) because his winning ticket printed out seven seconds too late.

A Canadian court dismissed Joel Ifergan’s appeal Thursday after the almost-but-not-quite-winner said that he should still be eligible to win half the prize money.

Ifergan bought two Super 7 lottery tickets at 8:59 p.m. for the May 23, 2008 jackpot. But while one ticket was eligible for the 23rd, the second was printed out after the clock struck nine, and only counted for the May 30 jackpot. And as fate would have it, the ticket marked for the 30th had the winning numbers for the 23rd.

Ifergan blames Loto-Quebec’s ten second processing delay.

After spending years and at least $80,000 on the case, Ifergan tells CTV, “Yes, it cost me a lot of money, but it also consumed me for seven years.”

[CTV]

TIME Bizarre

New Hampshire Lottery Releases Bacon-Scented Scratch Ticket

It'll certainly gives new meaning to the phrase "bringing home the bacon"

The New Hampshire state lottery is now offering a lottery ticket that smells like bacon.

The new tickets, which are scratch-n-sniff and read “I Heart Bacon,” were released Jan. 5. Winners can take home $1,000 and the odds of making at least a dollar are one in 4.12, the website says. Plus, you know, it just smells delicious.

To promote the new ticket, bacon trucks will visit various locations in the state, handing out free samples of applewood smoked bacon as well as offering lottery tickets.

Last week, around 700,000 tickets were sold, MarketWatch reports, making the bacon lottery the best selling $1 ticket.

TIME New Mexico

$500,000 Winning Lottery Ticket Deemed a ‘Misprint’

It's a classic rags-to-riches story. Only without the riches

A New Mexico resident believes he is owed $500,000 for what appears to be a winning lottery ticket. However, the New Mexico Lottery says the ticket was a misprint so it doesn’t have to be honored.

John Wines purchased the scratch-off ticket in Roswell, New Mexico in December. The ticket showed two winning numbers for $250,000 each, even though the maximum prize for a single scratch-off card is supposed to be $250,000. Some of the winning numbers are also obscured on the ticket. When Wines returned to the gas station where he bought the ticket, to claim his prize, he was told that the card was a misprint. New Mexico Lottery also refused to validate the ticket when he contacted them by email.

Wines believes dismissing the ticket as a misprint is unfair. “It’s like I told them, I didn’t misprint it,” he told KFOR. “I bought the ticket in good faith thinking if I won I was going to get my money.”

As a consolation prize, New Mexico Lottery offered Wines $100—in free lottery tickets.

[KFOR]

TIME Bizarre

A Baltimore Truck Driver Has Won the Maryland Lottery for a Second Time

Some people really do have all the luck

“It’s great to be back” is something not many people get to say to lottery officials while collecting their winnings.

But those were the exact words uttered by a Baltimore truck driver last week after he won the Maryland Lottery for the second time, the Baltimore Sun reported.

The unidentified 39-year-old driver only realized he had won the $2.85 million jackpot when he heard the winning ticket came from a Safeway in Waldorf, Md., where he had bought one after stopping to fill gas.

The man had previously netted $250,000 in a second-tier Mega Millions prize in 2005, which he said he used for a down payment on a house. He reportedly plans to use his second jackpot to pay off the house and save for his two sons. And, of course, take a vacation.

[Baltimore Sun]

MONEY gambling

Spain’s Lottery Awards $3 Billion in Time for Christmas

Winning El Gordo, the grand prize in Spain's 200-year-old annual nationwide lottery, can turn small towns wealthy overnight.

MONEY Leisure

Why a Hyped New Lottery Game Went Bust in a Hurry

The "Monopoly Millionaire's Club" lottery launch at Times Square on October 20, 2014 in New York City.
Andrew H. Walker—Getty Images The "Monopoly Millionaire's Club" lottery launch at Times Square on October 20, 2014 in New York City.

A new Monopoly-themed lottery game was expected to be popular enough to warrant its own TV show. But the game has already been killed after flopping with lottery players, who often had no clue if they won or lost.

State lottery sales have largely gone flat at the same time that much of the country has come to rely more and more on the revenues sanctioned gambling provides. To boost sales, state lottery commissions are constantly trying to capture the imagination (and dollars) of players by rolling out exciting new games. As one economist explained to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch this past summer, a lottery game “follows a life cycle like any product… You get this increase in sales. It peaks. People get used to it, and then you get this slowdown.”

Hence the need to regularly create and market new lottery games, like the Monopoly Millionaires Club, introduced in 23 states in October as the first multi-state lottery game to hit the scene in 12 years. At the time, state lottery commission press releases (like one published for Arizona) and news outlets in participating states (such as New Jersey) had trouble explaining all of the game’s particulars. It was a “two-pronged game,” but with potentially multiple winners and “three different ways to win a million dollars,” and each ticket came with a series of numbers as well as a traditional Monopoly property, like Marvin Gardens or B&O Railroad. Anyone with a ticket matching all six numbers would win the jackpot (starting at $15 million), and when a jackpot was awarded, other randomly selected players would win $1 million apiece. But if nobody won the jackpot, nobody else was eligible to win $1 million either.

Oh, and players were supposed to enter an online sweepstakes to win a trip to Las Vegas to be on the associated TV show, to be hosted by Billy Gardell (Mike on “Mike & Molly”), where more millions could be awarded. And each ticket cost a pricey $5. “This $5 price point strengthens the game’s play value while differentiating it within lottery draw game portfolios,” the Arizona press release explained. Whatever that means.

From the get-go, people were puzzled. “Monopoly Millionaires’ Club is like a cross between Powerball, the Pennsylvania Lottery’s Millionaire Raffle, and McDonald’s Monopoly game, which makes people collect various game pieces,” one Philadelphia Inquirer writer summed up. “Plus, there’s a TV show,” and unlike popular scratch-off lottery tickets, “there’s nothing ‘instant’ about” about the Monopoly game. While it could possibly pay off big-time for players, the game was so confusing it might “set records for people who fail to realize they won, as well as people who mistakenly think they did.”

Turns out people don’t like confusing lottery games involving delayed gratification, and they certainly don’t like forking over $5 a pop to play such games. Citing “sales that have not met the lottery industry’s projections,” Texas announced last week that it was suspending the Monopoly game, and all other states followed suit recently. By December 26, the game will disappear nationally. To borrow from Monopoly lingo, this game is going indefinitely to jail. Do not pass Go; do not collect $200—or any amount.

MONEY Lottery

Here’s One Solution to America’s Destructive Lottery Addiction

Man in pile of cash excited holding up fistfuls of money
John Lund—Getty Images

This week John Oliver helped expose the dark side of U.S. state lotteries, which are a drain for low-income ticket buyers. Turns out, there's a better alternative.

Lotteries—and the damage they inflict on the finances of poor Americans—were the main topic of HBO’s satirical news show Last Week Tonight with John Oliver this past Sunday.

Host and comedian Oliver had several bones to pick with state lottery administrators, who already generate a staggering $68 billion in revenue each year and are expanding into even more addictive products like video lottery terminals.

Among the disturbing developments he noted is the fact that states like Illinois have begun rolling out smartphone lottery apps.

“If, starting right now, your mother could play the lottery as easily as she plays Candy Crush, in three weeks, she’d be preparing Thanksgiving dinner over a trashcan fire,” Oliver quips in the clip below.

Jokes aside, Oliver has hit upon some sad truths about lotteries.

For one, playing the lottery is a form of gambling that can be just as neurologically addictive as substance abuse.

Lotteries also tend to function as a regressive tax on the poor. Studies show that it’s the poorest Americans who spend the biggest portion of income on lotteries, with 61% of people in the lowest fifth of socioeconomic status (as measured by income and education) playing the lottery each year, compared to 42% in the top fifth. And while the richest Americans gamble on the lottery only 10 times each year, the poorest buy tickets 26 days annually.

“The hope of getting out of poverty encourages people to continue to buy tickets, even though their chances of stumbling upon a life-changing windfall are nearly impossibly slim,” writes Carnegie Mellon’s Emily Haisley, the lead author of a study on the psychology of lottery gambling. “Buying lottery tickets, in fact, exacerbates the very poverty that purchasers are hoping to escape.”

Given that lotteries are a big revenue source for state governments and aren’t going away anytime soon, however, some advocates for the poor are seeking ways to dissuade financially-vulnerable Americans from playing.

One promising answer that’s gained visibility in recent years is to combine the appeal of gambling with something that promotes responsible financial behavior—in this case, a savings account.

These “prize-linked savings accounts” work just like normal savings accounts, except that instead of getting interest for parking their cash, customers are entered into a drawing—a lottery, if you will—to win money or other prizes.

Though they are currently available through credit unions in certain states like Michigan, Nebraska, North Carolina and Washington, these accounts are prohibited by many other states’ governments—despite lots and lots of evidence that the accounts are effective at steering would-be gamblers toward building nest eggs they otherwise wouldn’t have.

In one study, for example, researchers found that people saved 38% more than the average when given the option of a prize-linked account. Plus, the money they put away tended to come out of their lottery ticket spending, not their normal savings account contributions (if they had any).

Of course, in an ideal world, everyone would stop chasing prizes and instead contribute to conventional savings, retirement, and investment accounts that actually earn interest or generate returns and don’t impose the stiff early withdrawal penalties that many prize-linked accounts do.

But here in the real world, where advertisements, news, and irrational hope combine to make us feel like our dream life is just a ticket away, it’s unrealistic to expect all Americans to stop playing the lottery.

A more realistic goal might simply be to apply its powerful appeal to smarter alternatives.

MONEY Odd Spending

Why People Aren’t Buying Lottery Tickets

Lottery forms on a gas station counter in Lutherville-Timonium, Maryland, Thursday, Dec. 12, 2013.
Patrick Semansky—AP

Lottery sales have gone flat in several states, but not necessarily as a result of gamblers waking up to the fact that the house always wins.

Are people who had been accustomed to dropping a few bucks here and there on state lottery games experiencing “jackpot fatigue”? It sure looks that way, according to Stephen Martino, director of the Maryland State Lottery and Gaming Control Agency, who at a recent meeting noted an astonishing 41% dropoff in Powerball sales in the state last month, compared with September 2013. Paraphrasing Martino, the Baltimore Sun reported that “players may be becoming numb to soaring prize numbers,” and so they’re not buying lottery tickets at the blazing pace set in the past.

Maryland is not the only state where lottery sales are falling, flat, or just not measuring up to the projections offered by local gaming commissions. Sales of core lottery games declined in Ohio during the first half of 2014, for instance, while lottery sales in Kentucky are failing to measure up to what was drawn up in the state budget last spring. Meanwhile, once-torrid lottery sales have plateaued in Missouri, with profits for the fiscal 2014 year that are $21 million lower than the year prior. One expert told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that the falloff in lottery sales in Missouri (and elsewhere) comes partly as a result of players getting bored with the games:

“It follows a life cycle like any product,” said Thomas Garrett, a University of Mississippi economist who studies lotteries. “You get this increase in sales. It peaks. People get used to it, and then you get this slowdown.”

In light of this concept, it makes sense that money spent at newer, up-and-coming video lottery terminals in states such as Ohio is rising, while traditional lottery games like instant tickets and Pick 3 and Pick 4 are on the decline. To boost sales and attract a new generation of lottery players, states are spending more on advertising and rolling out games that are sold in new ways (lottery ticket sales at gas station pumps and ATMs) and that are sold with themes favored by locals (college football teams, “Duck Dynasty”).

In addition to simple fatigue and a lack of excitement for the same old games, lottery sales have also been hurt by the spread of casinos, according to some research. This past summer, the Washington Post noted that lottery sales in Maryland had increased for 16 years in a row before casinos came to the state. And the recent opening of another casino in Maryland seems to have played some role in the September slump of Powerball tickets. “Those two industries [lottery and casinos] tend to be substitutes for each other,” one economist hired by Maryland to conduct a study on lottery sales explained to the Post.

At the same time, gambling industry supporters point out that while lottery sales in states such as Ohio and Pennsylvania initially declined or went flat after casinos opened in the states, the drop was only a blip—and that sales are strong once again. The debate about how casinos impact lottery sales is raging in Massachusetts, where a Repeal the Casino campaign argues, among other things, “If the lottery takes the minimum expected hit of 10 percent from the introduction of casinos and slots, state lottery transferred as state aid to towns and cities will be reduced by about $90 million.” Casino supporters, on the other hand, say that such projections are based on outdated and flawed data, and that any effect of casinos on lottery sales is temporary.

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