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Lottery fever gets contagious

Editorial

Earlier this week, thousands of people who have never purchased a lottery ticket — or at least rarely buy them — filled out the play slip for a mammoth jackpot that was drawn Wednesday night.

The attraction? A jackpot in the Powerball game that rose dramatically the closer the drawing got. First posted at $425 million, the top prize was upgraded to $500 million and then $550 million. Eventually, the number reached about $588 million, second only to the $656 million in a March Mega Millions drawing.

And when the balls had bounced, the numbers were rosy for two tickets — one purchased in Arizona, another in Missouri. As of Thursday afternoon, the owner or owners of the tickets had not claimed their portions of the jackpot. There were also winners of smaller prizes, including reports of some in the $10,000 range in Southwest Georgia.

The chances of winning a game like Powerball are, of course, minuscule — 175 million to one. The odds of being killed by a meteorite are only one in 700,000, according to Discover.com. But with a carrot as enticing as more than half-a-billion dollars, it was hard to pass up dropping a couple of bucks on a chance to get rich quick.

And that’s what the game officials planned all along. Earlier this year, the cost of a ticket for this game doubled to $2. That led to an initial drop in sales, but the game is now played in 42 states and the effects of jackpots building faster and higher have resulted in the game’s sales revenues increasing 35 percent during the same period from 2011. For every ticket sold, $1 goes to fund the prizes and the other $1 goes to the state in which the ticket is sold.

So, what is the “magic number” that prompts those who normally don’t play to buy a ticket? Some lottery officials suggest it is in the $100 million area.

With Wednesday’s winners, the prize drops back to the minimum, and it will take several weeks of rollovers before another huge jackpot comes around and lottery fever hits again.

There’s just not that much excitement in winning a mere $40 million.

— The Albany Herald Editorial Board