DES MOINES, Iowa — It’s all about the odds.
With the majority of possible combinations of Powerball numbers in play, someone is almost sure to have won the game’s highest jackpot during Saturday night’s drawing, a windfall of hundreds of millions of dollars — and that’s after taxes.
The problem, of course, is those same odds just about guarantee the lucky person won’t be you.
The chances of winning the estimated $600 million prize remain astronomically high: 1 in 175.2 million. That’s how many different ways you can combine the numbers when you play. But lottery officials estimate about 80 percent of those possible combinations had been purchased.
“This would be the roll to get in on,” said Iowa Lottery CEO Terry Rich. “Of course there’s no guarantee, and that’s the randomness of it, and the fun of it.”
That didn’t deter people across Powerball-playing states — 43 plus Washington, D.C., and the U.S. Virgin Islands — from lining up at gas stations and convenience stores Saturday for their chance at striking it filthy rich.
At a mini market in the heart of Los Angeles’ Chinatown, employees broke the steady stream of customers into two lines: One for Powerball ticket buyers and one for everybody else. Some people appeared to be looking for a little karma.
“We’ve had two winners over $10 million here over the years, so people in the neighborhood think this is the lucky store,” employee Gordon Chan said as he replenished a stack of lottery tickets on a counter.
Workers at one suburban Columbia, S.C., convenience store were so busy with ticket buyers that they hadn’t updated their sign with the current jackpot figure, which was released Friday. Customer Armous Peterson was reluctant to share his system for playing the Powerball. The 56-year-old was well aware of the long odds, but he also knows the mantra of just about every person buying tickets.
“Somebody is going to win,” he said. “Lots of people are going to lose, too. But if you buy a ticket, that winner might be you.”
The latest jackpot is the world’s second largest overall, just behind a $656 million Mega Millions jackpot in March 2012. The $600 million jackpot, which might have grown before the numbers were drawn at 10:59 p.m. Saturday, currently includes a $376.9 million cash option.
Charles Hill of Dallas says he buys lottery tickets every day. And he knows exactly what he’d do if he wins.
“What would I do with my money? I’d run and hide,” he said. “I wouldn’t want none of my kinfolks to find me.”
Clyde Barrow, a public policy professor at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth, specializes in the gaming industry. He said one of the key factors behind the ticket-buying frenzy is the size of the jackpot — people are interested in the easy investment.
“Even though the odds are very low, the investment is very small,” he said. “Two dollars gets you a chance.”
That might be why Ed McCuen has a Powerball habit that’s as regular as clockwork. The 57-year-old electrical contractor from Savannah, Ga., buys one ticket a week, regardless of the possible loot.
It’s a habit he didn’t alter Saturday.