How the Powerball jackpot grew so large and what to know

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Millions of lottery players across the country will try their luck again Monday night as they battle for an estimated $1.9 billion Powerball jackpot, hundreds of millions of dollars bigger than all previous prizes.

The jackpot is nearly $400 million larger than the previous record jackpot and will continue to grow until someone wins the prize. Only four previous jackpots have topped $1 billion, but none come close to the current jackpot, which started with $20 million on Aug. 6 and has grown steadily larger in three winless months.

A winner who chooses a lump sum would receive about $929.1 million, while $1.9 billion would be paid to a winner who chooses an annuity each year over 29 years.

Even as more people are attracted to the huge prize of a $2 Powerball ticket, the game’s extremely high odds of 1 in 292.2 million means there is still a good chance that another drawing will be held without anyone winning the top prize. That would bring the jackpot in Wednesday’s drawing to more than $2 billion.

WHY SO LONG WITHOUT A WINNER?

Those who shell out $2 for a Powerball ticket might wonder if something is wrong when 40 drawings go without a jackpot winner, but that’s how the game is designed. With odds of 1 in 292 million, meaning that it is unlikely that anyone will win a prize until the growing jackpot attracts more players. And more ticket sales means the lottery can get more money for public programs, which is what state lotteries are all about. However, it has been an awfully long time without a jackpot, and if there is no winner on Monday night, a new record will be set: 41 draws without anyone hitting all six numbers.

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A LOT OF PEOPLE MUST BE PLAYING NOW, RIGHT?

Yes and no. Many, many more people are buying tickets now that the jackpot has reached nearly $2 billion. This is evident from the fact that when the jackpot started at $20 million in the summer, players only bought enough tickets to cover less than 10% of the 292.2 million possible number combinations. It had risen to 62% in Saturday night’s draw, so millions and millions of people are playing. But that percentage is still lower than the 88.6% coverage achieved for the previous jackpot record in 2016. And if 38% of the possible number combinations are not covered, there is a good chance that there will be no winner.

Players can choose the numbers themselves, but most let the machine choose the numbers at random.

That’s not the case for George Pagen of Brooklyn, New York, who always picks his numbers.

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

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DOES THE FINAL WINNER REALLY GET $1.9 BILLION?

Too bad for the poor Powerball winner because the lucky ticket holder won’t see anything close to $1.9 billion. The only question is how much less.

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

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

“We’ll figure out which one is the better deal,” Lowe said as he bought tickets at the liquor store. “An annuity might be good because it would discourage us from spending, but it’s pretty hard to spend $2 billion all at once.”

Larry Evans, who bought Powerball tickets in Chicago, agreed that he would need to hire a “team of people” to manage his finances. He noted that it might be expensive, “but that doesn’t matter because I could afford to pay the team.”

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However, even if the winners were paid, federal taxes would take an extra bite, reducing the payout by more than one-third, and many states tax lottery winnings, so the winnings would also be spent.

The difference between an annuity and cash awards has widened recently as inflation has led to higher interest rates, meaning the money invested in an 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: buying one ticket gives you a 1 in 292.2 million chance of winning the jackpot. If you spend $10 on five number combinations, your odds are better, but with 5 out of 292.2 million, you’re still almost certainly not going to hit the jackpot. The same thing happens if you spend $100. Lottery officials say the average player buys two or three tickets, meaning they’re putting money into a dream with very little chance of it paying off in the rich reality.

WHERE IS POWERBALL PLAYED?

Powerball is played in 45 statesas well as in 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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