Monday, May 25, 2009

Powerball odds get, well, crazy ...

Not unlike a lot of folks, I don't play the lottery very much. Yeah, I know, the money goes to education. But, like a lot of people have said, it's a sucker's game. The odds are just impossible. And what's the point of buying the scratch tickets? I mean, $10 to win $5? That doesn't make a lot of sense unless you play all the time ... and that can be a lot of money.
I do, however, play Powerball whenever it gets up over $100 million or so. Again, I figure, it goes towards education. What's $5 or $10 here or there?
In addition, when the Powerball gets to be more than $100 million, there is a bit of freedom if you somehow manage to win. Think of it this way: If you take the lump sum option, you'll get a little more than half or so. The government will take 40 percent, leaving you a big chuck of change instantly in your pocket. Take the current Powerball figure of $222 million. The cash option is $113 million. The government will take its piece leaving you with about $68 million. That's a chunk of change that will change your life assuming you don't do something stupid like blow it all in Vegas or "invest" in your friend's business schemes.
So, what the hey.
The other week, the Powerball jumped up to more than $100 million. I took some of my cards into the local Irving to play $10 worth. The 10 numbers I have come from fortunes from cookies at the Chinese buffet place near my office. The clerk tried to scan the cards but the machine kicked the tickets out. Oh, the clerk said, these are old tickets. You need new ones.
Now, I rarely play, so I asked what she was talking about. Apparently, the lottery changed the numbers. OK, I thought, I'll just put the fortune cookie numbers on some new tickets.
I grabbed the new tickets and started filling them out. Oh, I looked, this has changed. Instead of picking 1 to 55, you now have to pick 1 to 59. In the Powerball pick, it's now 1 to 39 instead of 1 to 42. I filled out the numbers, played the tickets, and left.
As I was driving home I thought, Hmm, I wonder if the odds have changed that much. When I got home I compared the new and old tickets. Well, the odds had changed ... Instead of 1 in 146 million, it's now 1 in 195 million! Like 1 in 146 million wasn't bad enough. Overall, the odds of winning something have increased, from 1:37 to 1:35. But wow, those odds are now crazy. The $200,000 prize went from 1 in 3.5 million to 1 in 5.1 million. The $10,000 prize went from 1 in 584,432 to 1 in 723,145. The chances for the $3 and $4 wins increased slightly. Everything else is harder to win.
I went over to the lottery Web site and it seems the change happened in January of this year. Here is what the Web site posted:
NH Powerball® -- Now, more Powerful than ever!

We’ve packed New Hampshire’s favorite game with more fun, more excitement and a whole lot more money! We’ve raised Powerball’s® starting jackpot from $15 million to $20 million. Next, we raised the $200,000 prize to $1 million for players who Match 5 and have Power Played their winning ticket. We also lowered the overall odds of winning -- that means bigger jackpots, more often and more prizes won than ever before!

Players choose 5 numbers from a field of 1 through 59 and one Powerball® Number from a field of 1 through 39. With the change of the numbers to choose from, the overall odds of winning the jackpot prize will lengthen but the overall odds of winning will drop to 1 in 35!

Play the all new Powerball® today!

In very rare instances, the lottery may not be able to pay the stated set prize levels. In that case, the prize pools will go pari-mutuel (like the jackpot) and we will divide the prize pool among all of the winners.
Well, OK, there is some nice spin here. While the overall odds have improved, every prize that is more than $7 has gotten worse. But one has to ask the question: Why? They don't seem to tell you that at all.
The lottery remains a game for people who aren't good at math. But one has to wonder why the odds were increased so much. It wasn't like there were a lot of people winning a ton of money, right?

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