Josh Shaffer

Shaffer: Sure, go ahead and blow two bucks on a Powerball ticket

The United States of Powerball

If the record-breaking Powerball jackpot has you dreaming of how you would spend the winnings — you are not alone. But where you live plays a big role in how much of the prize you would get to keep.
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If the record-breaking Powerball jackpot has you dreaming of how you would spend the winnings — you are not alone. But where you live plays a big role in how much of the prize you would get to keep.

As hopeful billionaires, we know we’ll never turn the key on an Aston-Martin, never sign the deed to an estate in the Hamptons, probably not win back the $2 price of a Powerball ticket to buy a pack of Bubble Yum.

At 292.2 million-to-1, the odds of collecting Wednesday’s record $1.5 billion jackpot stand far longer than our chances of being eaten by a shark (3.7 million-to-1), becoming an astronaut (13.2 million-to-1) or drowning in a bathtub (685,000-to-1.) After a casual search, the only event I can find that is less likely to befall a Powerball gambler involves a meteor crashing through the bedroom roof (182 trillion-to-1.)

We know that we might as well take our two crisp dollar bills, fold them into paper airplanes and fling them into traffic.

But we don’t care. It’s $2 worth of frivolous fun. It’s a moment of what-if fantasies and wouldn’t-it-be-nice charity. It’s a day of crossed fingers, disappointed sighs and shrugged shoulders.

“If I won the Powerball, I would buy an island, name it Genovea & declare myself the queen of it,” says my favorite tweet on the subject, coming from someone named Andrea. “Then I’d invite Julie Andrews over for tea.”

I hear your coffee cups hitting the table and your breakfast companions getting sermonized that there is evil inherent in games of chance, that lotteries are a tax on the poor, that gambling is addictive. Yes, yes, calm down.

This isn’t that. I’ve seen that.

Much like skiing and Champagne, Powerball qualifies as one of those giddy and reckless activities one tries on occasion, consequences be hanged.

About 15 years ago, my editors sent me to write about the Army ammunition plant in McAlester, Okla., where nearly all the country’s bombs are manufactured, but along the way, I stopped at a crossroads on the Choctaw reservation, which had a bustling casino.

This house of gambling had no swirling lights, no showgirls and no cocktail waitresses wearing fancy hats. From what I could tell, its slot machines got crammed inside an old grocery store. The air hung heavy with cigarette smoke, and the fluorescent lights buzzed down to a dirty linoleum floor. I pushed a quarter into a slot machine and casually asked the woman next to me how she was doing, and she told me, “I’m down $900 since last night.” It was about noon. That woman didn’t look as though she had $900 coming in her next paycheck.

But much like skiing and Champagne, Powerball qualifies as one of those giddy and reckless activities one tries on occasion, consequences be hanged. And unlike the dough that goes to either skiing or Champagne, some of this money actually finds its way into needy hands. Out of every foolhardy dollar spent, the schools get 26 cents. None of that goes to teachers, thanks to the legislature’s rule changes, so if I collect Wednesday’s prize, I plan to send a generous pile their way.

Right after I pay off my mortgage. And replace the siding on my house. And buy a cabin in Valle Crucis. And a place at Kure Beach. And send a pile to Helping Hand Mission. And the N.C. Symphony. And …

Powerball at a glance

Wednesday night’s jackpot: At least $1.5 billion

Drawing time: 10:59 p.m. EST Wednesday

How to play: Match five white balls numbered between 1 and 69, plus one red “powerball” numbered between 1 and 26.

Cost: $2 per ticket ($3 for a “Power Play” multiple that increases the value of smaller prizes)

Odds of matching all six numbers: 1-in-292.2 million

Annuity payout: $1.5 billion over 29 years

Lump-sum payout: $930 million

Where Powerball is played: 44 states, plus Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. (The six non-Powerball states are Alabama, Alaska, Hawaii, Mississippi, Nevada and Utah.)

If no one wins Wednesday night: The payout will rise again before the next drawing, at 10:59 p.m. EST Saturday.

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