The record $1.4 billion prize for the next Powerball drawing, scheduled for Wednesday, is not an accident. In October, the group of states that runs Powerball decided to change the rules to make it much harder to win. This increased the odds that a given drawing would have no winners, rolling over the prize pool and creating huge jackpots.
The purpose of these changes is to generate hype, and media coverage, around the inflated jackpots.
The media has obliged. It has encouraged people think think about how they’d spend the $1.4 billion jackpot and delivered “tips” on how to win. USA Today, the largest newspaper in the United States, tweeted that “if you are feeling lucky this week, then this is a particularly good time for you.”
The lottery functions as a regressive tax on the heaviest lottery players, which are disproportionately poor. The purported benefit of the lottery — increased funding for education and other important things — is largely a fiction. Once lottery funds materialize, money that was previously devoted to education is diverted elsewhere.
Nevertheless, many media outlets have emerged as boosters for Powerball, hyping Wednesday’s drawing and even explicitly encouraging people to buy tickets.
If you’d like to participate in the excitement of Powerball without spending your hard-earned money, you can play this Powerball simulator. While I was writing this article I played 10 tickets for every drawing over 21 years — 2,206 total drawings. It cost $66,152 and I won $10,516 in prizes. The largest prize I won was $100.