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AS I SEE IT

Posted 1/19/16 (Tue)

By Neal A. Shipman
Farmer Editor

Finally, after three winning tickets hit the record $1.5 billion Powerball jackpot last week, the frenzy is over. Or at least it’s over for a while.
Three lucky ticket holders, with the winning numbers of 08, 27, 34, 04 and 19, and the Powerball of 10, were sold in Chino Hills, Calif., Munford, Tenn., and Melbourne Beach, Fla.
While those three winning ticket holders will walk away with a staggering sum of money even after all of their taxes are paid to the government, there are millions of people who are left with nothing more to show from their purchases than empty dreams of newfound wealth.
And, that is the problem with state-run lotteries. They pull millions of hard-earned dollars into state coffers, with those purchasing the tickets having meager to no chance of winning.
How meager? In the last Powerball lottery, the odds of winning were one in 292 million.
And according to a Wall Street Journal article, losers need to know that winning is harder than ever. And it isn’t because you’re unlucky. It’s by design.
Since its 1992 launch, the Powerball lottery has been reformulated half a dozen times to alter the chances of winning. In most cases, the tweaks have reduced the odds of collecting the grand prize. The most recent change occurred in October, when the odds of winning decreased to one in 292 million from one in 175 million.
The biggest factor that has increased the odds that there will be no winners is that the lottery association adjusts the number of balls in each drum. Most recently, the association added 10 white balls, bringing the total to 69, and subtracted nine red balls, reducing the total to 26. Adding white balls creates many more possible combinations of numbers, making it more difficult to pick the winning set. Meanwhile, subtracting red balls makes it easier to choose the correct number from the smaller pool of options. Together, those changes made it harder to win the lottery’s grand prize - but easier, according to the lottery association, to win other prizes.
It’s a winning formula for the lottery. And a losing formula for those who stand in line to throw their money away.
But what makes these lotteries even more evil is that they are a regressive tax in which millions of people who are living in poverty or fixed incomes are being bilked of billions of dollars in the dream of finally striking it rich.
While the Powerball is not going away, nor is any of the other state-run lotteries, they should at least be forced to clearly spell out what the odds of winning actually are.