Record $1.9 billion prize sparks rush in US for lottery tickets

People waiting in line to purchase tickets for the Powerball lottery in San Bernardino, California, last Saturday. The odds of winning are just one in 292 million, but Americans are trying their luck, lured by the huge jackpot.
People waiting in line to purchase tickets for the Powerball lottery in San Bernardino, California, last Saturday. The odds of winning are just one in 292 million, but Americans are trying their luck, lured by the huge jackpot.PHOTO: REUTERS
Hundreds of people waiting in line to purchase tickets for the Powerball lottery at a store in San Bernardino County, California.
Hundreds of people waiting in line to purchase tickets for the Powerball lottery at a store in San Bernardino County, California.PHOTO: REUTERS
Hundreds of people waiting in line to purchase tickets for the Powerball lottery at a store in San Bernardino County, California.
Hundreds of people waiting in line to purchase tickets for the Powerball lottery at a store in San Bernardino County, California.PHOTO: REUTERS
Hundreds of people waiting in line to purchase tickets for the Powerball lottery at a store in San Bernardino County, California.
Hundreds of people waiting in line to purchase tickets for the Powerball lottery at a store in San Bernardino County, California.PHOTO: REUTERS
Hundreds of people waiting in line to purchase tickets for the Powerball lottery at a store in San Bernardino County, California.
Hundreds of people waiting in line to purchase tickets for the Powerball lottery at a store in San Bernardino County, California.PHOTO: REUTERS
A Powerball lottery jackpot ticket.
A Powerball lottery jackpot ticket.PHOTO: EPA
An electronic billboard displaying the jackpot amount.
An electronic billboard displaying the jackpot amount.PHOTO: EPA
Signs promoting the multi-state Powerball lottery jackpot on a store's door in New York.
Signs promoting the multi-state Powerball lottery jackpot on a store's door in New York.PHOTO: EPA
Mr Mitch Bye unloading mock money that was used for staging in a press conference held by the Georgia Lottery.
Mr Mitch Bye unloading mock money that was used for staging in a press conference held by the Georgia Lottery.PHOTO: EPA
Georgia Lottery public relations manager Kimberly Starks posing between two mock security guards on a truck full of mock money used for a press conference.
Georgia Lottery public relations manager Kimberly Starks posing between two mock security guards on a truck full of mock money used for a press conference. PHOTO: EPA
A man walking past a sign showing the Powerball prize when it was worth US$999 million.
A man walking past a sign showing the Powerball prize when it was worth US$999 million. PHOTO: AFP
A worker changing the word million to billion, indicating the new jackpot amount for the multi-state Powerball lottery.
A worker changing the word million to billion, indicating the new jackpot amount for the multi-state Powerball lottery.PHOTO: EPA

CHICAGO • The jackpot in the Powerball lottery in the United States has grown to US$1.3 billion (S$1.87 billion), sparking a frenzied rush to buy the US$2 tickets. But the odds suggest that a person is 25 times more likely to become US president than win one of the world's biggest grand prizes.

The odds of winning the multi-state lottery are just one in 292 million, which is equivalent to the number of possible combinations of the five white balls and one red Powerball used in the draw. Or, to put it another way, the odds are equivalent to flipping a coin 28 times and getting heads every time, said Dr Jeffrey Miecznikowski, an associate professor of biostatistics at the University at Buffalo.

"It doesn't sound so bad... but you would be at it for an eternity," he said. "It's very unlikely."

 

With almost unimaginable riches at stake, many Americans who normally shun lotteries also joined the long lines of people buying tickets at retail stores across the country.

Mr Dony Elias, 26, an attendant at Stardust Liquor in Los Angeles, said 300 customers picked up tickets for Powerball last night at his store.

Mr Elias admitted to buying a ticket for himself, something he said he had never done before. And, like many other players, he has already given some thought to what he would do with the cash. "I would take a trip to the moon," he said.

Ms Patti McFadden of Fort Myers, Florida, who is a lottery-playing veteran, told USA Today before last Saturday's drawing that she visited multiple Powerball sellers to improve her chances.

Powerball's possibilities also caught the eye of part-time security guard Charles Lansche. "A billion dollars. Wow," he remarked to SFGate, the sister website of the San Francisco Chronicle.

But he had not bought any tickets yet. "I've got certain days when I buy certain tickets," said Mr Lansche, who buys the tickets on Tuesdays. Asked what he would do if he won the jackpot, he said: "I'd take a trip around the world."

Nearby, a store clerk who did not want to give his name said he preferred not to buy a ticket because of the low odds of winning. "Actually, my girlfriend is nagging me about it, so I probably will," he said. "She's thinking about her student loans."

Ahead of the previous draw last Saturday, the US saw sales of US$277 million on Friday alone, and ticket purchases were pegged at more than US$400 million last Saturday, according to Mr Gary Grief, executive director of the Texas Lottery, reported the Daily Mail.

"At our peak last night, we were selling more than US$1.2 million in Powerball tickets every single minute," Mr Grief told NBC News on Sunday.

Mr Alex Traverso, a spokesman for the California Lottery, said "it's crazy how big this jackpot is", confirming that the current Powerball prize was record-setting. "Buckle up: It's going to be a crazy ride between now and Wednesday night (the next draw)."

While the US$1.3 billion is by far the largest up for grabs in North America, Spain's latest elGordo lottery, or "The Fat One", had a prize pool of US$2.4 billion. But it was awarded to thousands of ticket holders, elGordo's website said. Powerball's riches could go to a single ticket holder.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 12, 2016, with the headline 'Record $1.9 billion prize sparks rush in US for lottery tickets'. Print Edition | Subscribe