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Lottery Jackpots Increasing, Billion Dollar Jackpot Could Be Possible

11:41 AM, Feb 14, 2012   |    comments
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Powerball lottery that provided a lucky Rhode Island ticket holder $336.4 million could soon produce jackpots of $500 million or more.

$1 billion? Not as crazy as it sounds.

Saturday's winner, who purchased a ticket at a Newport Stop & Shop, has yet to be identified. But the sixth-largest lottery ticket in U.S. history - worth about $210 million as a lump-sum payment - could eventually seem like chump change.

Had no one picked Saturday's six-number winning combination, the Powerball ticket would have jumped to a record $415 million this week.

"Could we see even bigger numbers? Anything's possible," says Tennessee Lottery Director Rebecca Paul Hargrove, head of the Multi-State Lottery Association (MUSL). "When a jackpot hits $200 million, it becomes water cooler talk and the increase in play is dramatic."

Tennessee, which has offered Powerball since 2004, had record ticket sales last week. Like other states, Tennessee receives at least 30% of Powerball revenue, which issued for education and other programs, says Hargrove, who has overseen lotteries in Illinois, Georgia and Florida.

MUSL, a coalition of several states, tweaked Powerball to make it more enticing last month, boosting ticket prices to $2 from $1 and hiking the minimum top payout to $40 million. The number of potential $1 million prizes was also increased, and the odds of winning the top prize were lowered to 1 in 176 million - from 1 in 195 million under prior Powerball draws.

"You definitely see a huge jump in sales," says Terri La Fleur, publisher of gaming journal La Fleur's. "We haven't seen a (top prize) above $390 million. We envision it can go over $500 million."

Lottery officials expected the changes to raise the anticipated top prize to $255 million, says MUSL director Chuck Strutt. But sales mushroomed the past 10 days. Powerball is offered in 42 states, Washington, D.C., and the Virgin Islands.

"Can the jackpot in the new game hit $1 billion? In this game design, it is predicted to happen about once in 10 years," he says.

Saturday's winning numbers were 1-10-37-52-57, with a Powerball of 11. Rhode Island lottery director Gerry Aubin says he expects the winner to surface later this week. "Hopefully, they are seeking some financial and legal advice right now and changing their phone number," Aubin says. The state's previous top lottery winner, who won $151 million in 2007, didn't come forward for several days.

Higher prizes could lead to abuse, warns Keith Whyte, of the National Council on Problem Gambling. "Some people may be unable to resist risking hundreds or thousands of dollars," he says. "The simplest advice: keep purchases at reasonable levels and play for recreation, like pooling ticket purchases with friends."

USA Today

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