Rising Powerball Jackpots Will Encourage Gambling Addiction

by on December 24th, 2010
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COMMENTARY | Imagine that once every 10 years one lucky winner will hit $1 billion Powerball jackpot. Dreams of unimaginable wealth and escape from financial difficulties already feed into gambling addictions, but how many more might fall prey when the reward quadruples?

That seems far-fetched with a $336.4 million ticket still at large in Rhode Island from the Saturday drawing. After all, that winner would only take home $210 million should he or she choose the lump sum payment. That payment would also be the largest one-time payment in Powerball history.

The largest winnings of any lottery are $380 million, split between two winners, from a 2007 Mega Millions lottery.

But gaming journal publisher Terry La Fleur thinks a $500 million jackpot isn’t that far off. This is in part because of ticket prices having recently increased from $1 to $2 and bumping the minimum grand prize payout to $40 million, while lowering the odds of winning. These enticements have already more than doubled the jackpot, which was $173.5 million at the beginning of February.

What about $1 billion?

“Can the jackpot in the new game hit $1 billion? In this game design, it is predicted to happen about once in 10 years,” La Fleur told USA Today.

The National Council on Problem Gambling states 2 million adults in the U.S. meet pathological gambling criteria every year. Another 4 million to 6 million could be considered problem gamblers, meaning that gambling has a negative impact on their lives.

An extreme example would be Annie Donnelly from Farmingville, N.Y. Stealing from her employer to pay for a gambling addiction led Donnelly to a prison sentence in 2006 for second-degree grand larceny. She took over $2.5 million to help support her $6,000 a day lottery and scratch-off ticket habit.

More common are small crimes like petty theft, committed by problem gamblers to meet their financial obligations, often by attempting to win money back through more gambling.

The real issue is that as gambling spreads, so do the number of people who are addicted. Bigger jackpots have led to record ticket sales — proof that gambling is spreading. By making lotteries like Powerball more tempting, states are also creating larger numbers of gambling addicts.

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