Powerball jackpot

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What is the Powerball jackpot? And how does Powerball work?

Pick correctly from 292,201,338 possible combinations of numbers, and you too could win Powerball.


Phil West


Posted on Sep 28, 2023   Updated on Oct 10, 2023, 9:24 am CDT

If you’ve ever fantasized about winning the Powerball jackpot, you’re not alone—especially at times like this, when the top prize amount approaches the $1.4 billion mark, as it’s now doing ahead of Saturday’s drawing.

If you wonder how the Powerball jackpot came to be, and how Powerball works, read on.

What is Powerball?

Powerball is one of two major multi-state lottery games in the United States, with Mega Millions being the other, overseen by the Multi-State Lottery Association.

According to its site, “The Multi-State Lottery Association (MUSL) is a non-profit association that assists its member lotteries in multi-jurisdictional game development. Each MUSL member offers one or more of the games generally facilitated by MUSL, but retains its independent statutory duties regarding ticket sales, retailer authorization, prize payments, income offsets, and other responsibilities.”

Powerball, according to the Lotto America site, launched in 1992 to replace the original Lotto America multi-state game. It was “introduced as a way to bring a fresh sense of excitement” to MUSL offerings, with “15 participating lotteries at the start.”

The site noted, “Over the last few decades, Powerball has grown to such an extent that the game is now played in 48 different jurisdictions and holds the record for the largest lottery prize ever won.”

Where can I play Powerball?

Powerball is available to play in 45 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, according to USA Today. You can’t play Powerball in Alabama, Alaska, Hawaii, Nevada and Utah, though as the Powerball site notes, you don’t even have to be a U.S. citizen or resident to buy a Powerball ticket. You just need to be of legal age to buy a ticket wherever they’re sold.

How do I play Powerball?

You can either pick your own numbers or let the machine pick for you, known as the “quick pick” ticket option. To complete a ticket, you select five numbers between 1 and 69 (in the drawing, these are the white balls) and then a separate power ball number between 1 and 26.

Prizes vary, starting with correctly picking the power ball for $4, according to the Powerball site. They jump up significantly from modest $4 and $7 prizes to $100 for four white balls. From there, four white balls plus a power ball wins $50,000 and five white balls without the correct power ball number wins a cool $1 million.

Anything below the grand prize can be multiplied twofold to tenfold if you buy a $3 “power play” ticket rather than a $2 standard ticket.

When do I find out, ‘Did anyone win the Powerball drawing last night?’

Powerball drawings happen on Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday at 10:59 p.m. ET. Google “powerball” and the most recent winning numbers are among the top results.

What is the Powerball jackpot?

The amount of any given Powerball jackpot depends on a few factors, including how long it’s been since a grand prize-winning ticket was sold. The Powerball site notes two important ones are games sales and the annuity factor.

The site notes, “Traditionally, game sales are stronger for a Saturday drawing versus a Wednesday drawing,” and “seasonality” or a big jackpot can impact sales.

It also points out, “The annuity factor, or the cost to fund an annuity prize, is another key component. The annuity factor is made up of interest rates for securities purchased to fund prize payments. The higher the interest rates, the higher the advertised Grand Prize. You might not realize that an economic reality like interest rates impact even the Powerball jackpot, but they do!”

According to the site, “Jackpot winners may choose to receive their prize as an annuity, paid in 30 graduated payments over 29 years, or a lump-sum payment. Both advertised prize options are prior to federal and jurisdictional taxes.”

The annuity prize starts at $20 million, for the first game after a jackpot-winning ticket’s numbers are chosen, and it grows from there.

What is the largest Powerball jackpot in history?

That distinction goes to Edwin Castro, who bought a ticket in Altadena, Calif. worth a staggering $2.02 billion for the Nov. 7, 2022 drawing, according to a New York Times roundup of the biggest winners.

What is now the third-highest Powerball jackpot, on Jan. 13, 2016, was $1.59 billion, split three ways among winners in Chino Hills, Calif.; Munford, Tenn.; and Melbourne Beach, Fla.

The fourth-highest, on July 19, 2023, at $1.08 billion, remains unclaimed after the winning ticket was sold in Los Angeles County.

The second-highest is upon us now, with an estimated total of $1.74 billion winnable for the Wednesday, Oct. 11 drawing.

What are the odds of winning the Powerball jackpot?

They’re not good, but they’re better than your chances at winning Mega Millions!

An article in The Hill compared the two, noting, “For the Powerball, there are 292,201,338 possible combinations, with just one matching the jackpot number. For the Mega Millions, there are 302,575,350 possible combinations. For both lotteries, almost two-thirds of the tickets bought will typically not match any of the numbers drawn.”

The writer, Sheldon Jacobson, pointedly called lotteries “a tax on the poor” and “designed to benefit the lottery agencies, not the lottery ticket purchasers.” He says if you play, you are a “willing participant in their charade.”

But for many, the notion of “can’t win if you don’t play” and fantasies of winning a massive jackpot compel people to buy tickets. And, very occasionally, an actual real live person does win, despite the incredibly long odds.

Update, Friday, Oct. 6, 5:06 p.m. CT: This story has been updated to reflect the new estimated jackpot total and its place in the all-time Powerball jackpot rankings.

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*First Published: Sep 28, 2023, 4:38 pm CDT