How the Powerball jackpot grew so large and what to know

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) – Millions of lottery players across the country will hit their luck again Monday night as they compete for an estimated $1.9 billion Powerball jackpot that surpasses all previous prizes by hundreds of millions of dollars .

The jackpot is almost $400 million more than the previous record Jackpot and it will continue to grow until someone wins the prize. Only four previous jackpots have topped $1 billion, but none of those come close to the current prize, which started at $20 million back on August 6 and has grown more than ever since a winless streak of more than three months.

A winner who chooses a lump sum payment will receive an estimated $929.1 million, while a winner who chooses an annuity, paid annually over 29 years, will receive the $1.9 billion.

Even as more people are attracted by the huge prize of dropping $2 on a Powerball ticket, the game’s long odds of 1 in 292.2 million means there is still a good chance of another drawing with no one winning the big prize. That would push Wednesday’s jackpot drawing to more than $2 billion.

HOW LONG WITHOUT A WINNER?

Those who spend $2 on a Powerball ticket may wonder if something is wrong when 40 drawings go over without a winner, but this is how the game was designed. With margins of 1 in 292 million, that means it’s unlikely anyone will win the prize until a growing jackpot attracts more players. And more ticket sales mean the lottery can raise more money for public programs, which is the point of state lotteries. Still, it’s a long time without a jackpot, and if there’s no winner on Monday night, a new record will have been reached: 41 draws without anyone matching all six numbers.

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THERE MUST BE A LOT OF PEOPLE BEHAVIORING NOW, RIGHT?

Yes and no. Many, many more people are buying tickets now that the jackpot has reached nearly $2 billion. That’s clear from the fact that when the jackpot started at $20 million over the summer, players only bought enough tickets to cover less than 10% of the 292.2 million possible number combinations. For Saturday night’s drawing, that number had climbed to 62%, so millions and millions of people are playing. But that percentage is still less than the 88.6% coverage achieved for the biggest Jackpot ever in 2016. And if 38% of the possible number combinations aren’t covered, there’s a good chance there won’t be a winner.

Players can choose numbers themselves but the vast majority let a machine pick the numbers at random.

Not so for George Pagen, of Brooklyn, New York, who always picks his numbers.

“I can’t let the machine pick me,” he said. “I have numbers in my mind and I’m going to win it. I’m going to win it and share it with my friends and family and everybody.”

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WILL THE FINAL WINNER TAKE $1.9 BILLION?

Pity the poor Powerball winner, because a ticket holder will never see a fortune close to $1.9 billion. It’s just a matter of how much less.

First of all, that $1.9 billion prize is for winners who choose payment through an annuity, which sends out a check annually for 29 years, increasing by 5% each year. But almost no winners take the annuity, opting for cash instead. For Monday night’s drawing, the prize money is $929.1 million, or less than half of the annuity prize.

Given the difference between the two prize options, Daniel Law of Brooklyn, New York, said he would consult a tax attorney if he won.

“We want to figure out what’s the best deal,” Law said as he bought tickets at a liquor store. “The annuity could be good because it would stop us from spending, but it’s pretty hard to spend $2 billion at the same time.”

Larry Evans, who was buying Powerball tickets in Chicago, agreed that he would have to hire “a team of people” to handle his finances. He noted that it could be expensive, “but it doesn’t make any difference because I could afford to pay the staff.”

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However winners are paid, federal taxes would take an additional bite, which would reduce the payout by more than one-third, and many tax lottery winning states, so that the prize would also eat.

The difference between the annuity and cash prizes has widened more recently as inflation has led to higher interest rates, meaning money invested in the annuity can grow.

DO I HAVE A BETTER CHANCE OF WINNING IF I BUY MORE TICKETS?

Yes, but your chances of winning have not improved significantly. Think of it this way: If you buy one ticket, you have a 1 in 292.2 million chance of winning the jackpot. If you spend $10 on five number combinations, your chances are better, but at 5 out of 292.2 million there is no doubt that you are going to hit the jackpot. The same is true if you spend $100. Lottery officials say the average player buys two or three tickets, meaning they’re putting money down on a dream with little chance of it paying off in rich reality.

WHERE DOES THE POWER GO?

Powerball is played in 45 statesas well as Washington, DC, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands.

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Associated Press writer Julie Walker in New York contributed to this story.

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