US counts down to $1.5-B jackpot
NEW YORK—What would you do with a whopping $1.5 billion?
That will be the question on many Americans’ lips on Wednesday night (Thursday morning in Manila), when the draw is made for the largest lottery jackpot in US history.
Even after the taxman calls, the Powerball jackpot could make the lucky winner wealthier than the likes of football star Lionel Messi, Swiss tennis champion Roger Federer and US superstar Beyoncé.
The winner may choose to be paid the full jackpot in annual installments for 29 years—or take $930 million as a one-off payment—before taxes.
Record sales have driven up the bonanza, as people dreaming of riches flocked across state lines and international borders to snap up tickets, but lottery officials are not ruling out the prospect of the jackpot rising even further.
“The whole building’s putting in two bucks, so we’re all going to party down in the Caribbean and split the money,” joked Mark Ferro, who works for a property management company, counting down the hours to the TV draw at 10:59 p.m. (0359 GMT, Thursday).
“I’m going to buy a nice big house on an island,” said his colleague John, an engineer who did not want to give his second name. And the rest? John said he would give away to friends, family and charity.
The odds of winning the jackpot are one in 292 million—so remote that you are 246 times more likely to be hit by lightning, according to The New York Times.
You may also consider your chances of bagging the $1.5-billion bonanza this way: If you printed out the name of every US resident on individual pieces of paper, put them in a giant bowl and selected one at random, the odds of picking President Barack Obama are not far from the odds of winning the Powerball.
With an estimated one in 12,500 chance, an amateur golfer is about 23,376 times as likely to make a hole in one as winning the jackpot.
If you don’t take home the jackpot, you may still get lucky and win one of the smaller prizes.
The lottery involves drawing five white balls from a spinning heap of them numbered 1 to 69, plus a red Powerball numbered between 1 and 26.
If you match the Powerball (and no white ones), a one-in-38 chance, you would get $4.
Matching three of the white balls, a one-in-580 chance, would earn you $7. If you’re truly living a charmed life and you hit the one-in-36,525 chance of picking four correctly, you would earn $100.
Maybe you have $584.4 million sitting around. If so, you could use it to buy every possible combination of numbers, guaranteeing victory. Congratulations! But that’s probably not a good idea. There is still the taxman, plus you might have to split your winnings.
You could better invest the fortune you already have elsewhere.
Despite the really bad odds of winning the jackpot, punters refuse to indulge the killjoy tone.
“Everybody at work is just dreaming out loud and I actually said this morning I wonder how many offices are having the same conversation,” said Marlene Rijo, 31, who works for a general contractor.
Since the last jackpot win on Nov. 4, more than $1.75 billion worth of Powerball tickets have been bought, said Gary Grief, executive director of the Texas Lottery and chair of the Powerball game group.
“Sales are doing exponentially more than we’ve ever done before,” Grief said. “I’m hearing anecdotally and through news outlets, millions of people who have never played Powerball before are indeed purchasing a ticket.”
Some retailers scoring the biggest sales are in US states bordering the handful that do not participate in the game.
“People are flocking over from those states to stand in line and buy lottery tickets,” Grief said. “You do not have to be a citizen of the US—people are coming from Mexico and Canada to purchase tickets.”
Note of caution
Even so, Grief sounded a note of caution.
“We want people to play responsibly,” he said. “This is not a game to put your life savings on, your retirement on. A big part of the fun is putting down your $2 and then dreaming.”
Many lottery players rationally know they won’t hit the jackpot, but they still seek an escape from their day-to-day life, said Joan DiFuria, a cofounder of Money, Meaning & Choices Institute, a wealth counseling organization
“Of course, it doesn’t make sense, but there’s a lot of good things you get out of that $2 that you can’t buy anywhere else,” she said.
Lottery officials anticipate that 85 percent of all possible combinations will be wagered on. So there is an 85-percent likelihood of a jackpot winner on Wednesday night.
The previous US jackpot record of $656 million, on March 30, 2012, was scooped by three winners from North Carolina, Puerto Rico and Texas.
The world’s richest lottery is Spain’s annual Christmas “El Gordo,” which in 2015 handed out 2.2 billion euros ($2.4 billion) but which capped individual wins at 400,000 euros ($440,000) and handed out thousands of smaller prizes. Reports from the wires
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