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Powerball lottery madness spreads to big media

Oct 18, 2005, 8:40 am

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Exclusive Lottery Post Story

Now that the multi-state Powerball jackpot is sitting at its highest level ever, everyone is taking notice, creating a barrage of big-media news stories.

Unfortunately for the public, the big media is making some mistakes.

Although the mistakes at first may seem innocuous, they add up to create player confusion.  When a lottery game's jackpot reaches the upper-limits, people who don't normally buy tickets get interested.  And those are the people who will be most affected by the misinformation, since they tend to know the least about the game.

In an effort to help players looking for correct answers to their questions, Lottery Post has surveyed the field of recent Powerball news reporting, and picked out some stories to correct.


Because CNN has been around the longest of all the cable news stations, it is often perceived as an authoritative voice in the news industry.  Unfortunately, in the case of Powerball that claim cannot be made.

CNN is currently blaring headlines about the current $340 million Powerball jackpot possibly becoming the largest in history.  Their news story, posted Monday morning, states, "Wednesday's Powerball drawing could produce the largest lottery prize in history, a record jackpot of $340 million. "

Not true.

The largest lottery prize [jackpot] ever awarded was a $363 million jackpot from the former version of Mega Millions, called The Big Game, in May, 2000.  The record jackpot was split between two winning tickets, sold in Michigan and Illinois.

What CNN might be referring to is the record for the largest single prize ever awarded by a lottery, which went to Jack Whittaker on Christmas Day, 2002.  He bought the winning ticket for the $314.9 million Powerball jackpot in West Virginia.

But that drawing was certainly not the largest jackpot.  It was the second-largest (now third-largest) prize in lottery history.

Perhaps some people created a new category of "biggest single prize" because of their disappointment that Powerball did not seize the overall record.  It sounds like a salvo for bragging rights in the rivalry between the two titans of multi-state games, Mega Millions and Powerball.

Whatever the reasoning, CNN should be making it clear that the Wednesday Powerball jackpot will not be the largest in history, but indeed will be the second-largest.

Washington Times

This morning, The Washington Times is trumpeting a big story that Powerball has a new jackpot capping system!

The reporter, seemingly sensing an exclusive story, rushed to publish the "big" news story without checking all the details.

After seeing the headline and opening paragraphs, seasoned Powerball players are probably left to wonder if the Multi-State Lottery Association (MUSL) has suddenly changed their rules.  The story could easily cause confusion and unnecessary worry among players.

The fact is that the cap is not new, and has been around since October 6, 2002 -- more than three years now.

Perhaps the reporter is confused that the jackpot cap has never been utilized prior to this drawing, but that certainly does not make it a new rule.

The change was implemented along with a number of other changes three years ago, including an expanded number pool, an increased annuity payment term, changes to Power Play, and changes to the way unclaimed prizes are distributed.

The Washington Times reporter makes readers believe the cap is brand-spanking new, and even surrounds quotes from lottery officials with language about how they are commenting on the "new procedure".

Some get it right

Amid the incorrect reporting, there are other news outlets getting it right.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune put together a comprehensive story correctly outlining the never-before-used jackpot cap, as well as all the details about how it works.

Minnesota Lottery Director Clint Harris summed up the nature of the cap nicely when he said, "It spreads the wealth.  You could have one very big happy winner with the $340 million.  Now you can also have from 10 to 30 second-prize winners who are going to win a bigger share of the money."

The Star Tribune article also correctly mentions that without the cap, the Wednesday jackpot would indeed be the North American lottery record, at an estimated $368.2 million.

Players should exercise caution

The moral of the story is that when jackpot frenzy begins, players should realize that it can also be a frenzy in the newsroom, as reporters who are unaccustomed to the various lottery rules and procedures are suddenly thrust into the role of reporting those rules and procedures.  And sometimes they will get it wrong.

Players should use common sense when buying lottery tickets, and keep from our-spending their budget.  Likewise, when reading "facts" about the lottery reported in mainstream news outlets, players should double-check the facts with traditional lottery news sources.

In-depth Powerball information, including a comparison of cash value and annuity payments -- before and after tax -- can be found at  USA Mega is a unique web site that presents information about the United States' two biggest lottery games, Mega Millions and Powerball.

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