Powerball and Mega Millions have both been around for decades, yet both lotteries seem to be having a lot of massive drawings recently.
The reason is pretty simple: The odds of winning the top prizes are worse than ever.
Longer odds mean more drawings without a winner, causing the jackpots to often roll over and grow exponentially.
Both games have similar concepts. You need to correctly pick all six numbers drawn in order to win the jackpot. For the Powerball, you need to pick five white balls and a red Powerball to win. Mega Millions requires five white balls and one gold Ball.
Of course, the number of entries also impacts the amount of the jackpot. As more players participate, the higher jackpots grow.
The North American Association of State and Provincial Lotteries reports that U.S. lottery sales have grown over the years, from $80.5 billion in 2016 to $90 billion in 2019 to $107.9 billion in 2022.
The changes made by the multi-state lotteries seemed relatively subtle, but led to incredibly large jackpots that occasionally exceed $1 billion.
Powerball increased the number of white balls in the pot from 59 to 69 in 2015. The number of red balls decreased from 35 to 26.
The results of these changes actually made it easier for someone to win a smaller prize, which starts at $4. But the number we all pay attention to, the jackpot, is harder to win than ever. The odds went from 1 in 175 million to 1 in 292 million.
Within months of the change, Powerball held its first $1 billion jackpot drawing. The jackpot for the Jan. 13, 2016, drawing reached $1.586 billion. Also, all 10 of Powerball's largest jackpots have come since the rule changes.
The 2015 rule change was among several the multi-state lottery has made since its formation in 1992. When it first started, the lottery had 1-in-54.9-million odds. At the time, the lottery had white balls and 45 red balls.
By increasing the number of white balls from 45 to 49, while decreasing the number of red balls to 42, the odds to hit the jackpot increased to about 1 in 80 million in 1997. Over the next two decades, the number of white balls steadily increased, resulting in longer chances.
Mega Millions has instituted similar rule changes. The lottery launched in 1996 with 1-in-52.9-million odds. Drawings then had 50 white balls and 25 gold balls. Like Powerball, the odds gradually decreased over time.
By 2013, the lottery had 1-in-258-million odds by having 75 white balls and 15 gold balls.
In 2017, Mega Millions actually reduced the number of white balls — a first among multi-state lotteries — to 70 but increased the number of gold balls to 25. This has made Mega Millions the toughest lottery to win with 1-in-302-million odds.
Since the 2017 rule change, Mega Millions has had four drawings exceed $1 billion.
This week, both lotteries are offering jackpots that rank in their top 10. Powerball's drawing on Saturday is expected to be its third-largest ever, with the top prize being $850 million. Mega Millions' Friday jackpot is an estimated $560 million, making it the lottery's seventh-largest jackpot.
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