RALEIGH, N.C. – The long-shot odds of winning the Powerball are about to get much longer.

Lottery officials insist that’s good news.

Here’s the deal: In January, Florida will join 31 lotteries throughout the country (and in the Virgin Islands) that participate in Powerball, a twice-weekly drawing of five white balls and one red ball that features huge jackpots.

With Florida and its 18 million residents coming on board, Powerball officials decided to raise the odds of hitting the jackpot by adding more balls to be drawn. That means the chances of hitting the jackpot will rise from 1 in 146 million to 1 in 195 million.

But the odds to win smaller amounts will improve, and the jackpots will start larger – the minimum will be $20 million instead of $15 million. And because more players will be buying tickets, jackpots should grow faster when no one wins.

“It grows bigger, faster,” said Alice Garland, a spokeswoman for North Carolina’s lottery.

Big jackpots drive Powerball sales, and tweaking the odds will help ensure more of those $100 million, $200 million and even $300 million frenzies. In selling dreams, buzz is the game, said Charles Clotfelter, a Duke University public policy and economics professor who co-wrote a book about the lottery business. And big prizes bring big buzz.

How it works

For the uninitiated, Powerball players buy a $1 ticket and select five numbers listed on white balls drawn from one pot and one Powerball number listed on red balls drawn from a separate pot.

What’s changing

Previously, players picked five white balls from a pool of 55. In January that will change to five white balls from a pool of 59. The number of red balls to choose from will decrease from 42 to 39.

Fewer red balls means better chances of winning the lowest prize in the drawing: $3 for matching the red ball. More white balls mean the chances of hitting the jackpot go from 1-in-146 million to 1-in-195 million.

Second prize

Another big change for players deals with winning the second prize. Matching five white balls but not the red ball wins $200,000. That prize, like all besides the jackpot, can be increased if the player plunks down another buck to buy a prize multiplier that increases the payout anywhere from two to five times (the multiplier is randomly selected during the drawing).

Starting in January, anyone who buys the multiplier and matches all five white balls will automatically win $1 million, regardless of the multiplier.


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