What would I do with half a billion dollars?
You know there are a lot of people asking that question before tomorrow night’s big Powerball drawing. It’s the second highest prize in a lottery ever, trailing a $656 million jackpot earlier this year.
But whoever is on the winning end of the ticket isn’t the only winner in this game. Back in January, the 33 states that run the Powerball game unveiled a little wrinkle: $2 tickets…up from a buck.
“We wanted to do something special with Powerball, with larger and faster growing jackpots,” say Chuck Strutt who runs Powerball for the Multi-State Lottery Association. “We just thought it was the right time to do that, the right economy and it’s been a tremendous success for us.”
Sure, who wouldn’t love to double your prices and see sales soar 35 percent? Strutt says Powerball is on track to generate a record-setting $5 billion this fiscal year. Half of the money goes for prizes, states take the other half and often spend it on school scholarships, environmental projects, even prescription drug relief.
UNLV professor Bill Thompson says there’s just one problem; that’s the source of the lottery revenue.
“We went through the election and it was all ‘let the rich people pay the bills, but this is one where the poor people pay the bills,” he says.
But Thompson concedes when purses get giant-sized, people who can and can’t afford it, scoop up tickets — even with odds at 175 million to one.
I asked musician Mike Fischer why people do that, as he played his guitar outside a subway stop in downtown Philadelphia.
“You are buying a chance to dream,” Fischer says. “‘Cause if you don’t have a dream, what’s the purpose of getting up? You gotta feel like you are working towards something.”
Fischer’s dream? A yacht, so he can live on the water and fish — all the time.
There’s a lot happening in the world. Through it all, Marketplace is here for you.
You rely on Marketplace to break down the world’s events and tell you how it affects you in a fact-based, approachable way. We rely on your financial support to keep making that possible.
Your donation today powers the independent journalism that you rely on. For just $5/month, you can help sustain Marketplace so we can keep reporting on the things that matter to you.