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Another Frankenjackpot In Year Lotto Goes Online

Powerball Reaches $500 Million As Wednesday Drawing Nears


Steve Helber, AP

Has this year been the juiciest ever for the state lottery industry?

The 42-jurisdiction Powerball is now up to $500 million, setting the stage for a dramatic drawing for many on Wednesday evening.

The jackpot is the second largest of all time, behind the Mega Millions $656 million drawing won by three tickets this spring. The first Powerball drawing was in 1992.

Despite jackpots soaring in recent years, the state lotteries have looked to the Internet for growth. Online poker advocates actually scored a big victory thanks to Illinois and New York getting the federal government to clarify the decades-old Interstate Wire Act, making intrastate web gambling OK to pursue as long as it’s not sports betting.

So, the Illinois Lottery went online earlier this year, and others have made subsequent moves.

Some lotteries have expressed interest in getting in on other forms of online gambling, putting federal online poker efforts from Sen. Harry Reid, a defender of Nevada’s brick-and-mortar casino industry, in a tough spot. Some states have joined together to oppose the Reid ideology, which would permit only poker and could greatly hinder lottery expansion.

Despite its lust for risk taking, Nevada is among the few who don’t allow lottery play.

Even with its success in 2012, the lottery continues to receive its usual public backlash, especially when purses sky rocket and anticipation builds, fueling even greater revenues — a significant chunk of which goes to back to the state. Illinois, for example, says that 30 percent of its sales go to “good causes.” However, some argue the lottery is regressive in that it’s played more often by the poor, amounting to a tax of sorts.

Unlike casino games, most notably poker with a predominant skill component, the lottery takes a beating for its almost unfathomably low chances of winning the grand prize. The odds of a ticket matching all five white balls and the red Powerball is 1:175,223,510.

Still, people play. Some even think it’s the most practical way to accumulate personal wealth.

Whenever a jackpot reaches these enormous heights, the Internet is abuzz with tips on what to do if you win, horror stories of winners blowing it all, phenomena that are more likely to happen than winning, and so on. Such jackpots are a spectacle, and many tune in even if they don’t open up their wallets to participate.

The lottery invokes a lot of jokes (The Onion, a satirical news site, announced the winning numbers for the Powerball drawing a day in advance), but as time goes on the state lotteries could be among the most serious of players in reshaping the U.S. gambling environment.

Michael Jones, superintendent of the Illinois Lottery, recently said that he envisions a purse reaching $1 billion in the future, which he thinks could attract casino gamblers who don’t typically have the desire to buy tickets.

Follow Brian Pempus on Twitter — @brianpempus