Despite odds, Powerball players keep eyes on $550M prize

November 28, 2012
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Karen Reeves of The Beau Mart in South Strabane Township changes the store’s sign to reflect a Powerball jackpot of $550 million Wednesday afternoon. (Robin Richards/Observer-Reporter)
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Carol Gibson of Charleroi buys a Powerball ticket Wednesday from Linda Wolfe at Popcorn Willy in Washington. Gibson said she and her co-workers plan to take a cruise together if their Powerball pool hits the jackpot. (Andy McNeil/Observer-Reporter)

Statistically, you’re more likely to be killed by a shark, a bee sting or even a vending machine than win the Powerball jackpot, but with more than a half-billion dollars on the line last night, the odds didn’t deter a multitude of folks from playing.

With an annuity value of $550 million, or a $360.2 million cash prize, only one U.S. lottery jackpot has been larger than the current Powerball prize, which began its run on Oct. 6 and saw its 16th drawing last night. In March, the Mega Millions jackpot hit $656 million and was claimed as a $471 million cash prize.

At midday Wednesday, the Pennsylvania Lottery reported statewide Powerball and Powerplay sales had reached approximately $20,000 per minute, adding to the more than $70 million in sales over the current jackpot run.

Dr. Melissa Sovak, a mathematics professor at California University of Pennsylvania, who provided the aforementioned statistical anomalies, crunched the numbers and determined that the odds of winning are 1 in 175,223,510.

You’re twice as likely to be struck by lightning than win the Powerball, she said.

Dr. Yongsheng Wang, an associate professor of economics and business at Washington & Jefferson College, said, from an investment perspective, playing the lottery is a loss, but on the bright side it’s entertaining and for a good cause, as lottery proceeds are used for programs for older state residents.

Despite this glum assessment on the long-term probably of winning, people weren’t discouraged from buying tickets and dreaming big Wednesday.

At Popcorn Willy on North Main Street in Washington, people were lining up throughout the day to buy Powerball tickets.

“It hasn’t been out the door, but it’s been close at times,” said Mark Buxton, the restaurant’s manager.

Among those buying tickets was Carol Gibson, 52, of Charleroi, who said she spends about $2 per day to play the lottery. She was doubling that sum for Powerball.

“I gamble, but I gamble cheap,” she said.

Gibson, who is also in a Powerball pool at work, said she would like to take a cruise with her co-workers before splitting up the money.

Dale Smelko from WJPA said about a half-dozen people at the radio station are in a Powerball pool.

“I play the small stuff like Cash 5, but when it’s this big and obnoxious, then you’ve got to throw money at it,” he said.

When asked what he’d do with the money, Smelko responded, “I’m just going to vaporize into thin air. You will never see me again.”

Amy Carter, Bob Marsteller and Beth Endres, all employees of R.G. Johnson Co. in Washington, were also at Popcorn Willy to buy tickets for their office pool. Marsteller, who has been with the company for 37 years, immediately chimed in that he would retire if they won.

Sylvia Harris, 65, of Washington, and Reggie Hritz, 64, of Canonsburg, both said they were playing because of the giant jackpot.

“This is for the big bucks,” Hritz said, with ticket in hand.

Marc Steigerwald, 29, of Aliquippa, who works at a local Sherwin-Williams, was enticed by the massive prize and stopped by the Shop ’n Save grocery store on West Beau Street in Washington to buy a ticket.

“Driving down here, I passed the Powerball billboard and I saw it was growing high, so I thought I might as while take an early retirement,” he said.

Steigerwald said if he won he would help his family out first and then put together an “entourage,” reminiscent of the popular HBO television show of the same name.

Nearby, Sherman Brown, 64, of Washington, a military veteran and retired machinist, was transferring numbers from an outdated Powerball sheet to a new one at the store clerk’s request.

Brown said he likes to pick his own numbers and didn’t mind losing his place in line among a half-dozen or so people. He said he would split the winnings with his family.

“Ain’t no sense being greedy,” Brown said.

Similar lines formed at the Trinity Point Giant Eagle in South Strabane Township, where Laura Kosol, 34, of Washington, waited with her daughter. She said she would use the money to set up college funds for her kids and cousins as well as travel to Ireland.

A former lottery winner was also there to buy a Powerball ticket from the Pittsburgh grocer. Dottie Pinto, 65, of Washington, who recently retired as a registered nurse from Washington Hospital, said she was in a work pool that won about $80,000 four years ago, netting more than $1,000 per person.

“You saw good and bad with it because the people who didn’t get involved were sad,” she said.

Pinto said they had bought the winning ticket from a store in Bethel Park.

“It only takes one to win,” she said.

Andy McNeil has been with the Observer-Reporter since 2011 as a general assignment reporter. He covers courts and education, and also serves as a photographer and videographer. He graduated from Pennsylvania State University, The Behrend College, with a degree in English; Duquense University with a post-baccalaureate paralegal certificate, and Point Park University with a graduate degree in journalism and mass communication.

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