Locals dream big as record Powerball pot beckons
Post Independent staff
Semantics aside, the odds of winning are long
By Will Grandbois
As Han Solo of Star Wars fame once said, “Never tell me the odds!”
Especially if what we’re really talking about is “probability.”
Ten years ago, students in Stacey Parnass Maule’s geometry class at Roaring Fork High School in Carbondale caught an error in the Colorado Lottery’s published “odds” of winning.
It had to do with the largely semantic distinction between odds and probability. Odds are a ratio; probability is a fraction.
Think of it in terms of the Denver Broncos’ season record. The ratio of wins to losses (odds) stands at 12:4. The fraction of wins out of total games played (probability) is 12 in 16.
In 2006, Parnass Maule’s students discovered that the Colorado Lottery’s published “odds” of winning were, in fact, probability. The class alerted the state to the discrepancy, and it was subsequently corrected.
Turns out the Multi-State Lottery Association, the group of state lotteries that oversees Powerball, didn’t get the memo.
With today’s estimated record $1.5 billion jackpot, according to the Powerball website, the odds of winning are 1 in 292.2 million — once again mislabeling probability as odds.
“Apparently they haven’t learned any math since then,” said Maule, who now teaches technology at Glenwood Springs Middle School.
So, your odds of winning are actually 1 to 292.2 million. That’s enough combinations for every adult in the country to purchase a ticket without guaranteeing a winner — not counting multiples and overlaps.
To put it another way, if you printed out each possible combination on one ticket (at four and a half by three inches) and laid them next to each other, it would cover a square mile. Imagine every street and sidewalk in Glenwood pasted with tickets, and happening to pick the right one on your way to the mailbox.
You have a greater chance of dying in a car accident for every mile you drive than you do of winning the Powerball for every ticket you buy. You are more likely to share the same birthday with the next three people you see.
“It’s statistically insignificant,” Maule observed.
That’s the lesson she was hoping to impart at RFHS a decade ago.
“It’s fine if you’re gonna play, but at least know what you’re doing,” she said. “You’re not necessarily buying with the expectation that you’re going to win.
“That whole conversation leading up to it is almost more of the fun,” she added. “You’re buying that hope and possibility and adventure. Enjoy the dream of it, but don’t play with the notion that you’re going to become a millionaire.”
Or, in this instance, a billionaire.
And if you’re banking on a lower prize, remember that less than one in 24 people will win anything at all.
The extremely long odds of winning the enormous Powerball jackpot hasn’t stopped lots of Garfield County residents from at least trying their luck at being the big winner in the multi-state lottery that has grown to a record $1.5 billion.
And the dreams they have are just as big.
“I’d buy a sports franchise,” Shannon Washington of Rifle said as he contemplated a ticket purchase at the Carbondale 7-Eleven store Tuesday morning.
He decided to hold out, though, preferring to try his luck on the way home later in the day.
“I’ll see how my day goes,” Washington said, adding he might give the Smoker Friendly shop in Glenwood Springs a try, just on a hunch.
Roxanne Close, manager of the Smoker Friendly on South Glen, said she’d welcome a winner at her store.
“We’d like to think of ourselves as a lucky store, sure, I think it’s time,” she said, adding that Powerball sales have been brisk, with nearly every customer who stopped in that morning buying a ticket.
“If we’re the lucky store, someone better be splitting it with us,” joked assistant manager Sydney Csotty. Per the rules, she and Close are not allowed to buy tickets at their place of employment.
Meanwhile, across the counter at the Carbondale 7-Eleven, Damien Webster was busy writing down his own picks to try to match the six mystery numbers, including the Powerball pick.
“I actually thought about this set of numbers, but I have another 10 sets of random picks,” Webster said. “It’s all dumb luck anyway.”
Though not a regular lottery player, he said there’s just something about a pot of money as big as this one. The $1.5 billion jackpot carries a cash prize of more than $900 million. The odds of winning are 1 to 292.2 million.
“I figured I might as well give it a shot,” Webster said, adding that, if he were to win, he wouldn’t work his carpentry job anymore and would probably buy a nice house.
“I’d also find a way to help people,” he said. “That’s more than enough money to spread around.”
Gareth Robson of Carbondale won $4 on $60 worth of Powerball tickets he purchased before the drawing last Saturday when the pot stood at $900 million. That didn’t dissuade him from buying more tickets for today’s drawing.
The native of England said he has never seen anything like it in his home country’s lottery, or even the multi-country Euro Lotto.
“This is just insanely big,” Robson said of the Powerball jackpot.
“I’m not one to do a lot of things for myself,” he said of the prospect of winning. “I think I’d do a lot of things for other people secretly … and go on a life vacation.”
Maddi Steffen from Rifle said that despite the crushing odds against her, she wanted to buy her Powerball tickets for the excitement and the chance to completely change her life.
Steffen plans to put her entire family into retirement if she were to win, and take the never-ending vacation herself.
Employees at the 7-Eleven story located at 11th Street and Grand Avenue in Glenwood Springs said that customers had been flocking in to buy Powerball tickets for the last week.
Jesse Herbert of Glenwood Springs said he had never played Powerball until a week ago when the jackpot skyrocketed.
“It’s nice to daydream about what I’d do with the money and the people I could help,” he said.
Herbert said he’d like to build a new day shelter and overnight shelter for Feed My Sheep, the local homeless relief organization.
Theresa Blanchard Daury, who works at the Kum & Go store in Rifle, knows something about crazy. She sold the $90 million winning Powerball ticket to Rifle resident Al George in 2014.
At the time, it was the largest prize ever won in Colorado.
“It’s been crazy … very busy,” Blanchard Daury said.
That very busy translated to $1,700 in Powerball ticket sales just before 4 p.m. on Tuesday alone. The store sold about $2,000 in tickets on Monday.
Ted Churchill, the store’s general manager, said it’s obvious that the enormous prize is leading people who have never purchased a Powerball ticket before to take a gamble. Even some of the employees have had to read up on the rules, he added.
As for whether or not customers believe the store is good luck, Churchill said it’s a mixed bag.
“We have plenty of people who only buy (Powerball tickets) here because they think it’s good luck, and we have plenty of people who refuse to buy here because they think it’s bad luck,” he said.
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