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Robin Huebner, Published November 27 2012

Robin Huebner Reports: Massive pot, slim odds as millions plunk down their cash for a shot at $550 million

FARGO - To all would-be multimillionaires: Powerball history could be made tonight. The expected $550 million jackpot, raised on Tuesday from $425 million, far surpasses the previous record Powerball jackpot of $365 million.

And it could go even higher before the numbers are drawn tonight.

“When you have so many people playing, it’s common to have multiple jackpot increases before the drawing,” said North Dakota Lottery Director Randy Miller.

If there’s no winner tonight, Miller said it will roll into Saturday and become the biggest lottery jackpot ever. That record stands at $656 million paid out for the Mega Millions game in March.

The excitement is causing a major rush of people to buy the $2 tickets.

“Retailers are very busy, when it gets to this point,” Miller said.

What are your chances?

A strong desire to win big requires a certain cling-to-hope mentality, akin to Jim Carrey’s character in the movie “Dumb and Dumber.” When Lloyd Christmas asks a woman what the odds are she’ll date him, she replies, “One in a million.”

After a long pause, Lloyd exclaims, “So you’re telling me there’s a chance!”

The odds are even worse in Powerball. The chance of matching all five white balls and the one red Powerball is one in 175 million.

“Actually, one in 175,223,510, to be exact,” said North Dakota State University mathematics professor Jim Coykendall.

Coykendall, who got his Ph.D. at Cornell University, knows his numbers. Besides algebra, he specializes in number theory.

To put your likelihood of winning the jackpot in perspective, Coykendall presented this scenario:

Think of a silver dollar, 2 millimeters thick.

Picture rolls upon rolls of them, packaged like they came from a bank, lined up for 217¾ miles from Fargo to the outskirts of the Twin Cities.

Only one of those silver dollars is the winner, and you have to pick it out.

Your odds don’t change if more people play the game. The only thing that changes is your chance of having to split the prize with others if you win.

To get a slightly better chance of keeping all the money, Coykendall suggested picking higher numbers to avoid synching up with common birthday picks.

But he said he has a better plan for spending the $2 on a Powerball ticket, advice he plans to take.

“Take that money and buy a Coke or rent a movie. You’ll likely get a lot more enjoyment out of it,” Coykendall said.

State laws differ

When it comes to buying your ticket, and winning the jackpot, different rules apply in different states.

North Dakotans can’t leave things to the very, very last minute. Miller said tickets in North Dakota must be purchased by 8:58 p.m. the day of the drawing.

Across the river, you have a little more time.

According to the Minnesota State Lottery website, the ticket purchase deadline there is 9 p.m.

The drawing is held just less than an hour later.

Privacy can also come into play, depending on where you buy your ticket.

If you win the jackpot in Minnesota, your name, amount of winnings and city of residence are all made public.

In North Dakota, you can choose to remain anonymous.

Not a gambler’s choice

Both North Dakota and Minnesota Lottery programs encourage people to play within their means.

“The lottery is a form of entertainment. We encourage people to be responsible,” Miller said.

Village Family Services in Fargo works with many people who can’t pass up a chance to play the game, even when they can’t afford it.

“It’s not a big deal when you have some discretionary dollars,” said Josh Huffman, interim program manager at the Village financial resource center.

“They need to prioritize their expenses,” he said. “Pay what needs to get paid first … housing, utilities, food.”

But a massive lottery payout is actually not a big draw for compulsive gamblers, said Lisa Vig, Gamblers Choice program director at Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota.

“It’s a lot of hype but not as big a deal,” Vig said. “There’s too much wait time to find out if you win.”

Plus, most compulsive gamblers feel they possess a certain amount of skill or luck to place bets.

Vig said the random nature of picking and drawing Powerball numbers doesn’t have the same appeal.

Regardless, Vig said, some of the money from both North Dakota and Minnesota lottery sales goes to treatment programs for problem gamblers.

Powerball basics

Information courtesy: North Dakota Lottery and Minnesota Lottery


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