Cross your fingers: Powerball climbs to $1.6 billion, setting all-time record for Saturday drawing

Realtor Alicia Sanchez holds her dog Kiki and $200 worth of Powerball lottery tickets.
Realtor Alicia Sanchez holds her dog Kiki and $200 worth of Powerball lottery tickets that she and her colleagues purchased at Bluebird Liquor in Hawthorne on Friday. Sanchez said if she wins she’s going to give it to a women’s shelter and to other charities. Powerball’s jackpot is $1.6 billion, the largest lottery prize ever. Bluebird Liquor is well known for paying out lucky winners.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Saturday’s Powerball jackpot will be the highest in the game’s history at $1.6 billion, likely to prompt a surge of new players with dreams of becoming an overnight billionaire.

Nobody has picked the winning numbers since August, which means the jackpot has increased to a record-breaking $1.6 billion prize, with a cash value of $782.4 million, according to the organizing body that operates the Powerball.

The last record was set in January 2016, when winners in California, Florida and Tennessee split the jackpot of $1.58 billion. Last year, a California player won nearly $700 million, said the Multi-State Lottery Assn. in a press release on Friday. The most recent Powerball winner purchased their ticket in August, winning $202 million in the state of Pennsylvania.


There have been 40 drawings since someone won the last jackpot, and if nobody wins the jackpot on Saturday it will tie the record for the longest run of drawings without a grand prize winner.

The eye-popping jackpot is catching headlines and leaving a nation of hopefuls daydreaming about what they would do if they won.

“We are witnessing history in the making with this $1.6 billion jackpot,” Powerball Product Group Chair Drew Svitko said in a statement. “What’s also exciting is that this run has already created millions of winners, including nearly 100 players who have won prizes worth $1 million or more.”

The Powerball Product Group represents the different lottery groups across the country that agreed to participate in the Powerball. As of 2016, both the Mega Millions and Powerball lotteries were offered across multiple states.

Players may find all those zeros enticing, and at just $2 per ticket the cost to play can seem reasonable.

But players should keep in mind that the lottery is played in 45 states, plus the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. A player has a roughly 1-in-300 million chance to win the Powerball, according to Victor Matheson, economics professor at the College of Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., and an expert on lotteries and gambling.

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Still, he doesn’t fault anyone who wants to try their luck.

“The best way to think about this is that it’s a tax on entertainment,” Matheson said. “Hopefully, people are buying their Powerball tickets for the fun and excitement and not as an investment. Because it’s a terrible investment.”

While not everyone will walk away a winner, they can rest easy knowing that they’re participating in one of the nation’s largest voluntary taxes. Depending on the state, lottery revenues support various beneficiaries, like public education in California or health and social services. Several states put the money back into responsible gambling and treatment programs, said the National Council on Problem Gambling.


Matheson reminds anyone who plays the lottery that it is a form of gambling, with odds that make it the riskiest form of gambling. He compares someone who plays 10 games of blackjack versus someone who purchases 10 Powerball tickets: the blackjack player might score some winnings after learning the ropes of the game, but typically the lottery player gets nothing.

But he emphasized that a person who does not buy a ticket has nearly the same chances of winning as someone who puts down $2.

“Still, all it could take is one trip to the liquor store to become a billionaire,” Matheson said.