In case you've been on Mars for the last week, the Powerball Jackpot has reached the dizzying height of $1.5 billion – enough money, CNBC pointed out Tuesday, to buy Etsy. Not something on Etsy – the entire company.
The jackpot has been steadily growing since early November, when drawing after drawing failed to produce a winner. It burst into the headlines last week when the total surged past previous records.
"We encourage players to please play responsibly and remember that you only need one ticket in order to win," said Pennsylvania Lottery Executive Director Drew Svitko, in a release.
Svitko goes on to stress the proceeds from the Powerball tickets sold in Pennsylvania will fund critical programs for older people in the state -- a good cause.
Indeed, 44 states and the District of Columbia run lotteries as a means to raise revenue. According to Reuters columnist David Cay Johnston, the states raised nearly $18 billion from lotteries in 2010, and a year earlier 11 states collected more from their lottery than they did in state income taxes.
As states debated the establishment of lotteries in the 1970s and 1980s, there were plenty of arguments about the moral cost of raising money with what many consider a vice that falls disproportionately on the poor. One by one, those arguments fell by the wayside as state after state set up lotteries.
But as Powerball hysteria built this week, you still heard them. Chuck Bentley is a financial advisor and CEO of Crown Financial Ministries, which is both a financial and religious organization. In his weekly column, Bentley counseled a reader not to divert his “coffee money” to buy lottery tickets, pointing out if he buys coffee, at least he gets something for his money.
“You are more likely to be hit by a falling star you are wishing on than you are to win the lottery,” he writes. “The odds of being killed by a falling star are one in 250,000, while your odds of winning the Powerball is one in 292.2 million. The big jackpot tends to cause people to forget to do the math.”
While low income consumers who have little money but big dreams make up a sizable portion of lottery ticket buyers, people with gambling addictions are also lining up to buy tickets -- often lots of them.
Keith Whyte, Executive Director of the National Council on Problem Gambling, issued a statement this week, asking consumers not to go overboard with Powerball.
His advice? Set and stick to a limit of time and money. Consider it entertainment, not an investment. Don’t gamble to escape feelings of anxiety, stress or depression. And if you think you have a problem, don't buy a lottery ticket and get help.
And as Bentley suggests, treat yourself to a cup of coffee instead.