Billion-dollar jackpot creates lottery frenzy

Draw for record-breaking haul set for Wednesday night

By Ralph Hardin ralphhardin@gmail.com

It’s an epidemic. Maybe not of “Baber Fever” proportions, but “Lotto Fever” has certainly spread to Crittenden County — but, then again, who wouldn’t be a little excited at the prospect of a ten-figure prize? When no winning combination of numbers was picked in Saturday’s Powerball drawing, it was clear that the next drawing would eclipse the billion dollar threshold. No doubt many Crittenden County residents will not be able to resist the allure of a potential life-changing payout and will be in line to press their luck again when the die is cast tomorrow night. The Associated Press recently ran a piece entitled “Powerball Mania: Things to Know Before You Buy Your Lottery Ticket,” outlining some key stats in regards to your chances of being the one to overcome the astronomical odds and have the winning ticket in hand when the numbers are revealed. “It all boils down to math,” the story read, “for those who hope to match all five white balls and the red Powerball.” So, you’ve won the jackpot. Do you take the whole thing (about $46 million per year), paid out in 30-year increments? Or is it your money and you want it now (about 700 million)? Either way, you can cut that total just about in half after Uncle Sam gets his cut. But what are the odds, really? Again, it’s just math. The article equated the chances as “about the same as your odds of flipping a quarter and getting heads 28 times in a row.” Jeffrey Miecznikowski, associate professor of biostatistics at the University at Buffalo, added, “The probability is so small, dare say impossible. It’s like trying to count electrons or drops of water in the ocean or grains of sand in the world. We just can’t imagine these types of things.” So someone has to win, right? While the chances of someone having the magic combination, there’s no guarantee — at least not yet. No one has won the Powerball jackpot since early November, which is why the prize has grown so large. “The bigger prize entices more people to buy tickets, and that drives up the jackpot,” said the article. “The increased ticket sales also make it more likely there will be a winner, simply because all those extra tickets mean more number combinations are covered.” There are 175,223,510 different possible combinations for the Powerball lottery game, so it seems like there’s no way to avoid a winner with a jackpot this size, but there’s nothing to stop repeat combinations, meaning there’s always the possibility of multiple winners, who would then share the money. Scott A. Norris, an assistant professor of mathematics at Southern Methodist University, was quoted in the article, saying there’s no trick to playing the lottery. “But your tiny odds of winning are a bit better if you let the computer pick rather than choosing yourself,” he said. “Because when people use birthdates or other favorite figures, they generally choose numbers 31 or below. That ignores the fact that there are 69 numbered balls.” And yes, your odds increase with additional tickets, but it’s important to keep in mind how small they are to begin with. If you have a 1 in 292.2 million chance of winning with one ticket, you have 10 times the odds if you buy 10 tickets. Yet the probability is still incredibly small. But even with all that in mind, millions will play. The smart thing, according to Kevin McCarthy with the Arkansas Scholarship Lottery, is to play responsibly. “These types of games should be played for fun and entertainment,” he said. “Like going to the movies or a sporting event. If playing interferes with regular activities, responsibilities, relationships, or physical or mental health, it is problem gambling.”

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