The Powerball crosses a billion dollars again. What are your odds?

For the fourth time in Powerball history, the jackpot crossed the $1 billion threshold after a drawing Monday revealed no winner. The prize now stands at $1.09 billion for whoever correctly guesses Wednesday night’s numbers.

Starting in 2016, Powerball changed the rules, charging more per ticket and making it harder to win. The effect? Get faster and bigger jackpots that tempt even the most rational people.

Jonathan Cohen, historian and author of the book “A Dollar and a Dream,” said we may continue to see the number of jackpots reach even more ridiculous heights, even though the odds of winning remain 1 in nearly 300 million. . You are more likely to be struck twice by lightning.

“There’s this phenomenon called jackpot fatigue,” Cohen said. “People get used to the size of the jackpot, then expect a bigger amount next time.”

Why are people so fascinated by this illusory, almost impossible-to-win prize?

Lotteries are a symptom of an inequitable society in which people believe the American dream is harder than ever to achieve, Cohen said. It’s hard to resist the tantalizing lure that a $2 ticket could move you overnight into a higher-income class, he said. Although the data is not yet clear whether people are buying more lottery tickets as the economy suffers, disposable income spent on gambling is declining.

State-run lotteries such as Powerball and Mega Millions generate money for parks and education. Americans spent $108 billion on lottery tickets in 2022, with about $25 billion generated in state taxes, said Victor A. Matheson, an economist at the College of the Holy Cross who has studied lotteries.

“From the state’s perspective, this is a voluntary tax,” Matheson said. “No one is angry because no one is forcing you to buy a lottery ticket. So if lawmakers need some money, they would rather institute a lottery than raise income taxes.”

Timothy Fong, who co-directs the Addiction Psychiatry Clinic at UCLA, considers lotteries another form of gambling.

Most of Fong’s patients find it difficult to overspend on items offering instant rewards, such as slot machines or scratch-off games, as opposed to jackpots drawn two or three times a week. Fong said it’s hard to feel bad about losing money in a lottery when you’re sold on the idea as you continue to help somewhere.

“They say you can spend money on the lottery (because you’re) helping the schools,” Fong said. “So it’s a great business tactic, to eliminate any feeling of guilt.”

Does the lottery do more to harm or help the public good? Fong said it’s not entirely clear.

“The lottery puts money back into gambling addiction treatment, but that’s a tiny fraction of that budget,” he said. Lotteries, particularly scratch-off games, are popular in low-income and non-white communities, and result in a regressive tax that Fong says affects people’s quality of life.

The low odds don’t seem to deter lottery players who are buying more tickets as the price soars to astronomical levels.

These games “offer the only way to get a very, very small investment, like billions of dollars,” Cohen said. “I think this will ensure their appeal for a long time, regardless of other trends that might shape the future of the lottery.”

Do the experts have any tips for improving your chances of winning?

“If you want to have a little more chance of winning more money, don’t pick your lucky numbers,” Matheson said. If your lucky numbers match someone else’s, you’ll have to split your winnings, he noted, adding that picking birthdays is also a losing strategy.

Matheson himself isn’t interested in lotteries because he’s done the math. “The odds of winning are almost the same whether I buy a ticket or not,” he said. “Economists, we are generally not gamblers. »

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