Business / Economy

It’s not About the Odds as Powerball Passes $1.5 billion

Local residents waiting in line with rest of nation for largest Powerball ever

Some think it’s all about the odds and Americans’ willingness—or cluelessness—to believe they have an inkling of a chance to take home the big kahuna of jackpots, the Powerball.

You might think that because some 44 million people bought tickets last week, and even more are expected to do so this week as the jackpot surpasses $1.5 billion, that the odds are just too astronomical. Well, they are that, but it would seem they don’t increase along with the number of people buying tickets.

According to the lottery board, no matter how many people play Powerball, the chance of winning never changes because winning is based on the amount of number combinations, not the number of players. And the reason there can be multiple winners is because there is no central computer spitting out numbers. Every ticket’s numbers are generated at the retail terminal you’re buying them from.

That said, the odds are still huge. One NYU professor puts the odds at winning in the Jan. 13 drawing at 1 in 300 million. Knowing this, it may seem unfathomable why anyone would invest more than $2. Yet, pools of people and even individuals will practically cash in their life’s savings to buy reams of tickets, which may theoretically increase the odds of winning, but it’s akin to plucking two grains of sand off a beach while wearing mittens.

Speaking of numbers, if you want to absolutely guarantee that you will win, all you have to do is buy every number combination—all 292 million of them at a cost of $5.8 million. Even then, however, you would most likely not be the only winner. That’s because of all those independent terminals spewing out tickets in 44 states, the District of Columbia, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, can generate duplicates.

To help feed the beast called the California Lottery, which participates in Powerball, there are more than 22,000 retailers throughout the state who host terminals at their locations. There are 30 locations in Hollister, but if you’re looking for one of those officially designated “Lucky Retailers” around town that have paid off regularly with all sorts of prizes, you’re in luck. Seven local stores consistently pay at least $4,000 in prize money each week.

They are: City Gas & Liquor, 5 Benito St.; Hollister Liquors, 310 First St.; G & J Liquor Mart, 191 San Felipe Road; Shell Gas & Mini Mart, 490 Tres Pinos Rd.; Safeway, 592 Tres Pinos Rd.; Diaz Liquors, 1709 #C Airline Hwy.; and Quik Stop, 1300 San Juan Rd.

Kulwinder Singh, owner of Shell Gas & Mini Mart, said more than 5,000 Powerball tickets were sold the day before the last drawing. He said many of the people who come to his store to buy tickets don’t leave empty handed as they take home snacks and drinks.

“Saturday was very busy,” he said. “Today is a little slow, but we hope tomorrow will be busy.”

Singh could be a big winner if one of his customers hits the jackpot. He said he receives $5,000 for ever million dollar prize. That could be $4.5 million for just going to work and selling a winning ticket.

G & J Liquor Mart sold 4,700 tickets before last week’s drawing and expects similar numbers on Wednesday. A clerk at the store said people lined up through the store up until the time of the drawing.

The actual take-home check will be about $930 million before taxes if a winner chooses an immediate cash payout instead of annual payments over 29 years, according to the Multi-State Lottery Association. If you choose the lump sum route, you’ll pay a hefty amount of taxes, more than once. First, when you collect and then each year as revenue in the form of interest or investments pay off. But if you accept your winnings as an annuity, the government basically acts as your banker and pays you installments until 2045. You pay tax only on those annual payments. By letting the government hold onto it and collecting interest from bond investments, by 2045 you or your heirs will have 20 percent more money.

As lotteries go, even though the $1.5 billion prize may be the biggest ever for North America, it falls short of Spain's El Gordo lottery, or "the Fat One," that paid out a pool of $2.45 billion in December 2015. In 2014, it was $2.7 billion. The difference being that Spain’s payouts are distributed to thousands of ticket holders, whereas Powerball’s could go to a single player.

The odds being what they are, Powerball may yet reach such lofty heights.

John Chadwell

John Chadwell is a freelance photojournalist with additional experience as a copywriter, ghostwriter, scriptwriter, and novelist. He is a former U.S. Navy Combat Photojournalist and is an award-winning writer, having worked for magazine, newspapers, radio and television. He has a BA in Journalism and Mass Communications from Chapman University and graduate studies at USC Cinema School. John worked as a scriptwriting consultant, and his own script, "God's Club," was produced and released in 2016. He has also written eight novels, ranging from science fiction to true crime, which are sold on Amazon. To contact John Chadwell, send an email to: [email protected]