It’s been a while, but there’s a giant Powerball jackpot that’s expected to have a prize of $317 million by Wednesday night’s drawing.
The total is a return to form for Powerball, which has been known, along with Mega Millions, for its record-breaking jackpots in recent years. But there’s been something of a drought, with nearly a year passing since the Powerball total climbed above $300 million.
Here’s a look at the latest jackpot, what’s behind the lull and what it means to state lotteries.
CHANGES TO THE GAME
The $317 million prize would be the 11th largest Powerball jackpot ever and the 22nd largest in U.S. history when including Mega Millions, the other national lottery game. The pot has been rolling since early December.
Since 2012, officials have sought to increase revenue by tinkering with Powerball and Mega Millions, primarily changing some ticket prices and lowering the odds of winning jackpots.
Thanks to those moves, jackpot sizes have repeatedly climbed to record levels. More than half of the top 10 U.S. jackpots have been reached in the past couple of years, including a $590.5 million Powerball jackpot in May 2013 and a $648 million Mega Millions jackpot in December 2013.
Before the latest prize, Powerball’s last major jackpot was in February 2014 when it was $425 million. There was a $326 million jackpot won for Mega Millions in November, that game’s first major jackpot since March 2014, when it reached $414 million.
Lottery officials said there’s no particular reason for the lull. Terry Rich, president of the North American Association of State and Provincial Lotteries and CEO of the Iowa Lottery, said lottery jackpots are inherently random. The game is expected to have slow periods based on projection models, he added.
Fewer giant jackpots can mean smaller ticket sales because casual players are not jumping in as often. In this case, ticket sales for Powerball and Mega Millions slightly declined during the first six months of the fiscal year that began in July, according to data.
For Powerball, more than $1.6 billion in ticket sales was collected between July and the end of December. For Mega Millions, it was just over $1.4 billion. Both figures reflect a decline from the halfway point of the previous fiscal year. During that period, ticket sales for Powerball were over $2.7 billion and for Mega Millions, it was more than $1.8 billion.
It’s not all doom and gloom. Rich said it takes just one large jackpot to balance things out. Plus, people are still playing other games. In the fiscal year that ended in June 2014, total ticket sales from all of the nation’s lottery games was about $70 billion dollars, up from about $68 billion the previous year.
Popular options like instant-scratch games bring in consistent revenue. As a result, state lotteries do not always heavily rely on jackpot ticket sales, according to Paula Otto, lead director for Mega Millions and executive director of the Virginia Lottery.
While huge jackpots draw more players, the downside is people become unfazed by smaller prizes. Otto called it jackpot fatigue and said lottery officials plan to do more research this year to examine the games.
“Why do people play? Why don’t they play?” she said of the kind of questions they want to answer. “What could we do to change the game to make it more attractive at all jackpot levels?”