Why is the Colorado Lottery so good to us?

Thumbnail image for lotto.jpgThose hucksters at the Colorado Lottery can't do enough for us poor gambling fools. Check out this announcement about an exciting new development for Powerball players. The minimum payout is increasing from $10 million to $20 million! The odds of winning a measly three bucks will improve from 37-to-1 to 36-to-1! Hot damn!

Keep reading, and you'll find out these magnificent inducements are actually a pretext for hiking the overall odds of winning the jackpot. Instead of 55 white balls, the game will now use 59. That means the chance of winning the big money goes from one chance in 146 million to one chance in 195 million. 

Lotto players aren't exactly slaves to logic or history, so perhaps it's worth pointing out that the Powerball odds have been getting increasingly astronomical ever since the multistate game was introduced in Colorado in 2001. Back in those heady days, the game had only 42 white balls, and the odds against hitting the jackpot were a mere 80 million to one. The measly state lotto is a slightly better bet, statistically (odds of winning, 5.2 million to one), but the marketers of state-sponsored gambling have figured out that big jackpots are what drives sales, no matter how absurd the odds--the subject of my 2000 feature, "Against the Odds."

Someone from Colorado has won the big money exactly once in the last seven years, a $20 million payout to two very, very lucky families. If the sharks behind Powerball really wanted to be fair about this, they'd set the minimum jackpot at $195 million. Then you're getting an equitable trade when you plunk down a buck for a shot at the fortune. But this isn't really about the jackpot, right? It's about supporting state parks and recreation.

Sure it is. If depraved gamblers wanted reasonable odds, they'd go to some kindly, the-customer-is-always-right haven of uprightness and fair play, like...like...Las Vegas. It reminds me of a great line by the late, much-divorced Lewis Grizzard, who said that the next time he felt like getting married, he'd just find a woman he couldn't stand and buy her a house.

The next time I feel like getting rich quick, I think I'll just flush some more dough into my sinking 401(k). --Alan Prendergast



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