Powerball, a multi-state lottery game played by 29 states, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, has been in existence since 1988, when it was known as Lotto America. Over its long and successful history, there have been various changes in the format, annuity period, and number of players. Through the analysis of these modifications to the game, one can see certain trends that have developed over time.
When the game originated in 1988, the object was to choose five numbers from 1 to 45, and an additional number, called the Powerball, also from 1 to 45. However, on November 2, 1997, the format changed to five numbers from 1 to 49, and one number from 1 to 42. Even though the amount of numbers from which to choose for the Powerball decreased, the addition of four extra choices for each of the five regular numbers decreased the odds of winning the jackpot significantly. The matrix has increased two other times, going up to 53 numbers on October 9, 2002, and to its current level of 55 numbers on August 28, 2005. The steady increase in choices for regular numbers has made it progressively more difficult for one to win the grand prize jackpot.
One reason for this is that more people are playing the game. As the number of players increase, the chance of someone winning the jackpot increases as well. Thus, the Multi-State Lottery Association (MUSL) has to stay ahead of the curve and increase the amount of winning number combinations in order to keep the number of winners at a constant. Another reason for adding more combinations is so they can increase the jackpot. With the last increase, the MUSL raised the minimum jackpot from $10 million to $15 million, and as everyone knows, the higher the jackpot, the more publicity is gained. Powerball competes with other lotteries across the country, so more publicity helps them sell more tickets, and in turn make more money.
There has been a steady increase in Powerball ticket buyers since the game debuted in 1988. One reason for this has been the rise in popularity of lottery style games in general. Ticket sales from lotteries increased 40 times over from $5.7 million in 1964 to $202.4 million in 1999. As the United States becomes wealthier, Americans have more discretionary income to spend on items such as these. Another reason for the increase in Powerball ticket buyers is due to the rise in the number of states offering the game. Since Colorado joined in August 2001, there has been a steady stream of state lottery associations that have signed on to offer Powerball as one of their games. The ensuing five years saw nine states and the U.S. Virgin Islands come on board, each one adding millions of potential players. With each new state that is added, the Multi-State Lottery Association has to consider decreasing the odds of winning the jackpot to avoid diluting the prize money. Because all grand prize winners must split the jackpot, if there are too many winners, the jackpot would wind up being split many ways most of the time. Players may end up losing part of their incentive and will to play, as in their minds they would no longer be playing for the jackpot, but for a small share of the jackpot.
Change has been a constant for Powerball since its inception in 1988. The odds have decreased, and the players and prize money have increased. No one can argue, however, that the game has not been a very successful endeavor, as the Multi-State Lottery Association continues to lead the field in multi-state lotteries.