FEELING LUCKY IN A BAD ECONOMY
Gambling experts say a majority of Americans will play some lottery game at least once in a given year.
Clyde Barrow, director of the Center for Policy Analysis at UMass-Dartmouth, says addicted gamblers are less likely to turn to massive jackpot ticket games like Powerball than scratch-off games.
"Scratch-off players are looking for instant gratification and an instant win," Barrow said. "A lot of those people don't like playing lotto because you have to wait. You have to sit on it for a few days."
While it may seem counterintuitive, Barrow says gambling activity often increases as the economy gets worse and people have less disposable income. However, his research — which focused mainly on New England — found the trend reversed in the latest downturn.
"The Great Recession has been so deep and so long, it's suppressed any kind of discretionary spending across the board," said Barrow, who added about the same percentage of people are playing the lottery — they're just buying fewer tickets.
Strutt, Powerball's executive director, said sales largely stayed flat during the peak of the recession in 2008 and 2009, but picked up since.
"Our biggest factor is gas prices," he said. "If people go to a gas station and put 80 bucks of gas in their car, they're not feeling happy to buy a lottery ticket."
It's conceivable you could win Wednesday night's drawing, just not the right one.
In addition to the official one televised nationally from Tallahassee, Fla., there are four practice runs. The reason, Strutt says, is to make sure the machines are running properly and the numbers are being distributed properly.
The balls used in the game are regularly measured, weighed and X-rayed. Then they're locked up in a room that's under 24/7 surveillance. Only the organizers and their auditors have a key.
IS IT A GOOD INVESTMENT?
You already know the answer to that. Yet people play anyway.
Strutt is estimating that there will be $214 million in sales for Wednesday's drawing (up from $140 million from Saturday's drawing).
Half the proceeds go to the prize pool — about a third of that to the big jackpot, with the rest to lower ones, including a new $1 million second prize. The other half goes to the lottery operations in the 42 states plus Washington, D.C., and the Virgin Islands where Powerball is played. This funds charitable efforts such as education, in addition to paying for overhead and compensating winning stores.
Barrow says it's no secret that it's not a prudent investment to regularly buy lottery tickets, but he contends it's a little more defensible as the amount skyrockets.
If the jackpot amount approached $600 million, and if you had the means to buy enough tickets until you won, AND if you could guarantee you wouldn't have to share with anyone, then it might be a wise investment, he said.
That's a lot of ifs, Barrow acknowledges. Still, he says he'll likely join the throngs of ticket buyers.
"For two bucks, it's worth a chance," he said. "What else am I going to do with that $2? I'll just waste it on something else."