The Odds — And Appeal — Of A Billion-Dollar Lottery

Powerball fever. Against all odds, we’re lining up to take it all home. Are we crazy? We’ll look at the power of some big, big numbers.

A man buys Powerball tickets at a convenience store in Lancaster, Pa., Monday, Jan. 11, 2016. The Powerball jackpot has grown to over 1 billion dollars. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

A man buys Powerball tickets at a convenience store in Lancaster, Pa., Monday, Jan. 11, 2016. The Powerball jackpot has grown to over 1 billion dollars. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

It’s nuts to play. The odds of winning are infinitesimally small. The payout isn’t really what it seems. And yet, and yet. Just say the number…$1.5 billion…and the urge to be in the running, be in the game, have a shot, clearly begins to eat at a whole lot of people. And the dreams. The big spread. The place on the beach. The ease and splendor.  Oh look, there we go. Powerball fever. This hour On Point, the human psychology and raw mechanics of Powerball.

— Tom Ashbrook


Michael Hiltzik, business columnist for the Los Angeles Times. (@hiltzikm)

Maeve Pages, On Point intern. Clerk at Upper Falls Discount Liquors in Newton, Mass. Student at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst studying international studies and journalism. (@MaevePages)

Frank Farley, professor of psychology at Temple University. Former president of the American Psychological Association.

Susan Bradley, financial planner and founder of the Sudden Money Institute. Author of the book, “Sudden Money.” (@SuddenMoney)

From Tom’s Reading List

Los Angeles Times: How the Powerball rules were tweaked to make the game an even bigger ripoff — “The sociological answer is that lower-income people have a greater need to relieve tension in their daily lives, gambling is a socially acceptable way to do so, and only the lottery offers the lure of a potentially life-changing payoff. Another attraction, the German researchers conjectured, is that lotteries are egalitarian — every buyer of a ticket has the same chance of success. That may be more appealing to those in lower socioeconomic strata, for whom equal opportunity may seem like a rare break, than to the more affluent, who may look at an equal-opportunity situation as one working to their disadvantage.”

CNBC: Tallying the big tax bite of a $1.5B Powerball win — “Sorry, Powerball hopefuls, but there’s no way you’re walking away with the entire $1.5 billion. It’s not simply an issue of the odds — although the Multi-State Lottery Association puts the chance of winning the grand prize at 1 in 292.2 million. Or the implications of having to share Wednesday’s record-high pot if there are multiple winners. It’s the taxes that’ll get you.”

Dallas Morning News: Mark Cuban’s tips for eventual winner of the $1.4 billion (or more) Powerball jackpot — “A winner of the record $1.4 billion Powerball jackpot Wednesday night – if there is a winner this time – will enter a rarefied world of the super-rich. The one or ones with lucky tickets won’t be billionaire rich; an upfront payout and taxes cuts that down to only $651 million or maybe a little less. But he or she will have billionaire-type problems and advantages.”

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
May 31, 2016
This 2006 colorized scanning electron micrograph image made available by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows the O157:H7 strain of the E. coli bacteria. On Wednesday, May 26, 2016, U.S. military officials reported the first U.S. human case of bacteria resistant to an antibiotic used as a last resort drug. The 49-year-old woman has recovered from an infection of E. coli resistant to colistin. But officials fear that if the resistance spreads to other bacteria, the country may soon see germs impervious to all antibiotics. (Janice Carr/CDC via AP)

A new superbug resistant to every antibiotic has shown up in the U.S. We look at the threat, and our dwindling antibiotic options.

May 31, 2016
In this July 31, 2015, file photo, an orca or killer whale breaches in view of Mount Baker, some 60 miles distant, in the Salish Sea in the San Juan Islands, Wash. ( (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)

The end of orcas at SeaWorld, McDonald’s using cage-free eggs — should animal lovers be optimistic about a new “humane economy”?

May 30, 2016
Rock icon Donald Fagen looks back on a lengthy and ongoing career in his new memoir 'Eminent Hipsters.' He co-founded the classic rock group Steely Dan with Walter Becker in 1972. (Penguin Books USA)

Steely Dan frontman Donald Fagen talks “eminent hipsters” and the cultural outliers that shaped his sound. He joins us.

May 30, 2016
Author and Harvard Business School social psychologist Amy Cuddy. (Photo by Bob O'Connor / Courtesy The Author)

Strike a power pose. Social psychologist Amy Cuddy on the power of presence when you’re ready to act and win.

On Point Blog
On Point Blog
In The Garden, Mother Nature Makes The Rules
Friday, May 27, 2016

Executive producer Karen Shiffman explains why she turns to her garden for food, friends and natrual comfort.

More »
WWII Vet Larry Kirby Reflects On American Values
Thursday, May 26, 2016

Looking ahead to Memorial Day, a World War II veteran looks back at the experiences that mattered to him, both in and out of war.

More »
Gloria Steinem Explains Her ‘Bernie Boys’ Comment
Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Feminist activist Gloria Steinem explains why her apparent diss of female supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders was anything but.

More »