Scott Olson/Getty Images
Scott Olson/Getty Images

I have been unable to convince my father that his winning the lottery is not actually a viable long-term financial plan. He likes to start conversations about money with, “If I win the Powerball …” It’s the possibility of that “if” turning into a “when” that really worries me, but what can you do? This is someone who actually believes the New York Mets have a legitimate shot at the pennant this year.

And who am I to say where the thin line between hope and delusion really lies?

The Powerball era in California has officially begun; tickets went on sale today throughout the state.  The contest, famously offering jackpots worth hundreds of millions of dollars, is now available in 43 states, Washington D.C., and the Virgin Islands, as you can see on this map, which depicts holdouts like Wyoming and Mississippi as gray, vacant patches in a sea of vibrantly optimistic crimson. The current estimated jackpot is $60 million; the next drawing is Wednesday night.

California Lottery spokesman Alex Traverso said that Powerball features a larger and faster expanding starting pot of $40 million than the state’s existing games. Those cost a buck a throw; you’ll have to plunk down double that for the extra excitement and money of Powerball.

In 2005, when California started offering Mega Millions, another multistate game, interest among the public initially spiked, but that enthusiasm has waned. Economist Kevin Klowden, the director of the California Center at the Milken Institute, an economics think tank, told KQED’s Polly Stryker that the state’s lottery has been “stuck in neutral.”“The problem with Lotto games is that they normally only get played by people in the lower end of the economic spectrum, who are usually the same group who play from week to week, “ he said. “The only way that the lottery can really stimulate new interest is by offering a new kind of prize. The Powerball pays out better jackpots in terms of size than any other lottery in the country. … The larger the prize is, the more people buy tickets…”

Klowden said California is at a disadvantage relative to states in the Northeast, where train commuters jack up the sales. He also said  middle-class players can be drawn into the lottery by bettering the odds.

So what are those odds? Well, in Powerball, you have to correctly pick five numbers out of 59, plus the Powerball number, which adds another 1-in-35 challenge to the mix. So, hold on, let’s get out the old calculate. … OK, chances of you winning the big prize are 1 in 175,223,510.

Not so good.

On the other hand, the odds of winning $1 million: just 1 in 5,153,633. So what does Mr. Klowden think of that? Is he game for a try?

“I don’t buy lottery tickets because I see the odds and they make me cringe,” he said.


Behold — The Era of California Powerball Begins 8 April,2013Jon Brooks

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