Some say it's harmless entertainment. Others say it can lead to a dangerous addiction. Some say its a simple way to raise millions for important state programs. Others say it's a game that takes advantage of the poor. But, however you feel about the Lottery it's here to stay.
The old adage, 'it's not whether you win or lose, it's how you play the game' does not apply here.
Tony Trotter says he's been playing the lottery for years.
"I figure somebody has got to win — somebody's got to win," says Trotter. "Why not me?"
The Kansas Lottery has more than 60 different games going at any time, and makes no secret of the odds.
Ok, take a scratch off ticket. That's $2.00 . Now the crossword scratch off, it's one of the most popular games the Lottery has. Now the odds of winning are always on the back of the ticket and on this particular game, it's about 1 in 4.
On a $10.00 scratch-off, your odds of winning some prize are about 1 in 3. On Super Kansas Cash, a lotto-style game with a minimum jackpot of $100,000, your odds of winning the jackpot are 1 in 2.4 million. And Hot Lotto, also a lotto-style game with a minimum jackpot of $1 million, the jackpot odds are 1 in 11 million.
But it's the multi-state, multi-million dollar Powerball game that excites so many players, like Tony. He says he always plays at least a dollar for Powerball's Wednesday and Saturday drawings.
"You can't win if you don't play," says Trotter.
A winning attitude will only take you so far. Tony says he hasn't given much thought to his odds of winning.
"I know the higher the money is, the higher the odds go up," says Trotter.
Well Tony, the good news is the odds are actually always the same, no matter how many people play. The bad news is, well, the odds.
"The odds of winning a prize are not astronomical, but the odds of winning the jackpots are, somewhat," Kansas Lottery executive director Ed Van Petten says.
Van Petten says to hit the big time, you must pick the correct five numbers out of a set of 55, and the correct Powerball number out of a second set of 42. The odds of doing that are one in 146 million.
"One in 146 million, yeah, that's big odds right there," says Trotter.
To put that in context, we asked Washburn University statistics professor Ron Wasserstein to provide an analogy.
"I tell students to visualize 140 million freshly minted dollar bills," says Wasserstein.
Suppose those bills were laid end to end and just one of them has a lucky serial number on it. To win all the $140 million, all you have to do is choose the lucky dollar bill from among all the others in the line.
Odds are it may take you a very long time to make your final choice.
"That line of dollar bills stretches over 13,000 miles, which is more than the circumference of the earth at the equator," says Wasserstein.
"But its not going to stop me from playing," says Trotter.
Nor does it stop most people. Lottery sales have risen more or less steadily since the Kansas Lottery was establshed in 1987.
Last year was a record one. Nearly $235 million in tickets were sold.
Over the last 19 years, nearly $3 billion worth have been sold, and about $1.6 billion has been paid out in prizes.
But who are the winners and losers in this game?
"I think the detractors of lotteries have just assumed it was going to attract get-rich-quick schemers and people that can't afford to buy the tickets," says Van Petten.
But a recent study commissioned by the Kansas Lottery found that the average player is male, Democrat, aged 35-54, with an income between $45,000 and $65,000 a year.
Among those players though, inevitably, there are some who play who shouldn't.
"What you'll see is people that can't afford to gamble are gambling $50, $100, $200 a day," says Duane Olberding of the Kansas Coalition on Problem Gambling.
Olberding is an addiction counselor. He says he sees many people that bet too much on the lottery.
"These are people, when you look into their trash cans, they have 200 or 300 tickets," says Olberding.
Lottery Director Ed Van Petten says he's aware addiction is a serious problem for some people, and the Lottery takes steps to address that. They send $80,000 a year to the Problem Gambling Grant Fund. Also, a gambling helpline number is printed on the back of every ticket. Also, the Lottery encourages retailers to post the gambling helpline number in their stores.
But Van Petten says, for the majority of players, the Lottery is just a harmless form of entertainment
"Some people would rather go to a movie than buy a lottery ticket, and that's fine if that's what their preference is," Van Petten says.
That's how Tony Trotter says he sees it. So come Wednesdays and Saturdays, he says he always has a dollar and a dream.
"One day, you never know," laughs Trotter.
For More Information
The Kansas Lottery is located at 128 N Kansas Avenue in Topeka, 66603. Their telephone number is 785-296-5700, and their website is www.kslottery.com. The address for the Kansas Coalition on Problem Gambling is 5847 SW 29th Street in Topeka, 66614. Their telephone number is toll free, 866-662-3800, and their website is www.ksproblemgambling.org.