The jackpot for the Powerball drawing on Saturday has reached $1.6 billion, making it the highest jackpot in U.S. history. It was possible because no one won Wednesday’s drawing, which was worth $1.2 billion.
There is a flurry of excitement among lottery players over the huge amount, which is the equivalent of 22,000 years’ worth of income for the average American family. However, as jackpots like this one grow, complaints about lotteries taking advantage of people increase as well.
“We’re having this huge debate around wealth inequality in our country, and you have people spending hundreds of dollars, sometimes thousands on these lottery games, which is pushing people into deeper debt,” the national director for Stop Predatory Gambling, a nonprofit advocacy group, Les Bernal said. “Powerball is just like the exclamation point on that.”
In 1992, the first Powerball drawing took place, and an Indiana player won $5.9 million. After more than 30 years, recessions, inflation and economic growth have changed the U.S. economy and American standards of wealth in big ways.
Yet, the big lotteries also changed the rules so that the jackpots kept getting bigger. They did this to get the media’s attention and make a lot of noise. In 2012, the price of a Powerball ticket went from $1 to $2. Over the years, the rules of the game have been changed several times in an effort to expand the number pool and decrease the chances of anyone winning the jackpot in one drawing. Consequently, the jackpots have grown.
According to research, most state lottery stores are in areas with low incomes and communities of color. A survey by the Consumer Federation of America found that one in five Americans thinks that the only way to get several hundred thousand dollars is to win the lottery.
“The lotteries feast on these demographics, they’re the business model. The lotteries don’t exist without low-income people spending their fortunes,” Bernal said. “Half the country has stocks and bonds, and they own houses. Half the country doesn’t have anything, they don’t have assets, and these are the folks that we encourage to play the lottery.”
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