The agency running the Powerball lottery might decrease the odds of winning the multimillion-dollar jackpot to stem a record-setting run of winners that is keeping jackpots small and, the agency says, causing ticket sales to plunge.
"To some extent, you try to ride it out. But I think we'll need to make some changes to the game pretty soon," said Chuck Strutt, executive director of the Urbandale, Iowa-based Multi-State Lottery Association, which runs the game. "We'll lose more than $400 million in sales this year."
Powerball is not available in Illinois, but tickets are sold in Indiana and Wisconsin. Outlets in 27 states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands sold $2.3 billion in tickets in fiscal 2003-04, but are projected to sell $1.8 billion to $1.9 billion for the fiscal year that will end June 30, Strutt said.
Strutt said Powerball sales really pick up steam once the jackpot hits $100 million.
But is there really a problem?
Powerball had eight jackpots of $100 million or more from November 1997 until October 2002 and eight in the nearly 2-1/2 years since. That's when the Multi-State Lottery Association bumped the odds of winning the jackpot from one in 80 million to one in 121 million by increasing the number of balls used in the drawing.
Gail Howard, a lottery expert from Las Vegas, said higher jackpots may not be the answer.
''The people, they're getting used to having these $200 million, $300 million jackpots,'' Howard said. ''Pretty soon it will take a half-billion-dollar jackpot to get even a welfare recipient out of the house to buy a ticket.''
Strutt didn't say how the game might be tweaked.
There have been 12 Powerball winners so far this fiscal year, which ends June 30 -- including six in 2005 alone. That puts Powerball on pace for a record 17 winners this fiscal year, Strutt said.
Since the game's odds were raised in 2002, there haven't been more than 12 winners in a year.
One expert says changing the game might be unnecessary.
''The expectation that they'll wind up with 17 winners this year because they've got 12 so far assumes that the process is linear and it's not. It's random,'' said Bruce McCullough, an associate professor at Drexel University. ''This could be the year they'll have 20 winners -- and there's nothing they should do about it. It's entirely possible they would be changing to fix a problem that doesn't exist.''
Powerball odds over the years
Powerball lottery odds and methods of payment have changed over the years since the Multi-State Lottery Association began running the game in 1996.
Players had to pick five numbers out of 45 numbers correctly, plus one number out of a separate batch of 45 Powerballs to win the jackpot.
Jackpot odds: 1 in 54.9 million.
Payment: An annuity payable over 20 years.
November 1997-October 2002:
Players had to match five numbers out of 49, plus one out of 42 Powerballs.
Jackpot odds: 1 in 80.1 million.
Payment: The choice of an annuity for the jackpot amount payable over 25 years or the current cash value of the annuity.
Players have to match 5 of 53 numbers, plus one out of 42 Powerballs.
Jackpot odds: 1 in 120.5 million.
Payment: A 30-year annuity or current cash value of annuity.