$500 million Powerball jackpot is big for a reason: the odds are worse

Lottery player
Wislande Cosmeus helps a customer get a few tickets for tonight’s $500 million dollar Powerball jackpot at the 7-Eleven convenience store on Southern Boulevard in West Palm Beach on January 6, 2016. (Richard Graulich / The Palm Beach Post)

(Reporter’s update at 1:20 p.m.: The estimated jackpot has increased from $450 million to $500 million today.)

At an estimated $500 million, tonight’s Powerball drawing could be one of the largest U.S. lottery jackpots ever.

And that’s partly because last year, the people who run Powerball made it harder to win the top prize, increasing the already-impossible odds to create bigger and bigger jackpots.

RELATED: POST INVESTIGATION: Gaming the Lottery

Why? Because the lotteries will make more money. Larger jackpots generate more attention, both from the media and the public, which generates more sales.

Lotteries who participate in Powerball downplay this by saying that your odds of winning something besides the largest jackpot are better. In a glowing Florida Lottery press release from October, when the changes were made, the lottery couldn’t even bring itself to call the odds “worse.” Instead, it said the odds were “extended.”

But really, the odds of winning something aren’t much better. The odds of winning $4 on your $2 bet went from 1 in 111 to 1 in 92.

Meanwhile, the odds of winning the top jackpot went from 1 in 175,223,510 to 1 in 292,201,338.

To be fair, though, the previous odds were so remote that playing it was still a fool’s errand.

Overall, the move is a gimmick by lotteries that have experienced slowing sales, Aaron Abrams, an associate math professor at Washington and Lee University in Virginia, told NorthJersey.com in July.

“It’s certainly a short-term fix, and you can see they’ve changed the rules over and over and over again. They come up with gimmicks,” Abrams said. “Lotteries are in business and they’re in business to make money, and this is marketing. They change the game in an attempt to get attention and spur sales, generate interest and get people excited about the lottery.”

So how did the Multi-State Lottery Association, which manages Powerball, make the odds worse?

To win the Powerball jackpot, you have to correctly pick five numbers, plus a sixth “Powerball” number, generated from a ball machine.

Before, the first five numbers ranged from 1 to 59. Now, they range from 1 to 69. Meaning, the chances became worse.

The sixth “Powerball” number did get better, though. It used to range from 1 to 35. Now it’s between 1 and 26.

If you’re still inclined to play, though, you might take solace in this fact: Florida, which has hosted the Powerball drawings since it started selling the game in 2009, has had more winners than any other state.

Voting made easier and other bright ideas

Betty Carlson (L) helps her husband Keith Carlson, who is visually impaired, fill out his ballot during early voting at the Black Hawk County Courthouse on September 27, 2012 in Waterloo, Iowa. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Betty Carlson (L) helps her husband Keith Carlson, who is visually impaired, fill out his ballot during early voting at the Black Hawk County Courthouse on September 27, 2012 in Waterloo, Iowa. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Making it easier to search the voting records of Florida politicians and making voting more accessible to all citizens are two of 22 voting-related projects awarded grants this week by the Knight Foundation.

Orlando Sentinel data analysts Charles Minshew and Andrew Gibson will get $35,000 to create Tabs on Tallahassee, a searchable database of voting records of Florida legislators. The University of Florida’s Juan Gilbert will get $35,000 to develop Accessible Voting for Everyonean electronic voting system to make voting easier for all citizens, particularly those with disabilities.

The foundation’s Knight News Challenge handed out $3.2 million for 22 projects Wednesday in Austin, Texas. Ten of the projects get more than $200,000. The rest get $35,000.

The foundation has given away $50 million to more than 130 projects over eight years.

The biggest award this year, $525,000, went to The Center for Responsive Politics and GuideStar for Inside the 990 Treasure Trove, a proposal to unearth and track campaign contributions by unregulated non-profits.

Among other winners: efforts to make state campaign finances more accessible, a way to access and fact-check political advertisements and  a way to provide less-expensive, more reliable exit polls.

Rodeos, the evils of hazing and more taxpayer turkeys from Florida TaxWatch

turkey
Courtesy of http://www.webweaver.nu

When it comes to state budgeting, one man’s turkey is another man’s bottom-line, can’t-live-without necessity.

And the 2015 Florida TaxWatch list of budget turkeys hatched this last legislative session includes quite a few items it’s hard to argue against: a meals program for the elderly, for instance, and desperately needed infrastructure improvements in the Glades.

But as the TaxWatch authors take pains to point out, the turkey list has nothing to do with the value of the projects.

Rather, the conservative-minded advocacy group cites the fact that some projects duplicated others, or were stuffed into the budget at the last minute, or were never discussed in committee hearings. In short, they were added to the state’s multi-billion dollar budget without a whole lot of taxpayer scrutiny.

Among those that TaxWatch believes would have benefited from a lot more public discussion and a lot less haste:

  • $1 million for an anti-hazing course at a public university
  • $50,000 for outdoor fitness equipment at a Volusia County park
  • $154,000 for a Key West American Legion Post
  • $350,000 earmarked for two rodeos.

TaxWatch cites committee meetings where information wasn’t provided to the public until after the meeting adjourned – or in some cases, not provided at all. Just before the budget was adopted, they point out, an additional $300 million in projects were added.

Not that all of the turkeys survived.

Gov. Rick Scott chopped and chopped: The $350,000 for the rodeos was vetoed. So was the American Legion Post funding.

Then again, so was the $400,000 water infrastructure for the Glades.

Public may learn what happened to $110,000 in mystery election money

A campaign mystery documented last month by The Palm Beach Post is now the subject of a complaint to the Florida Elections Commission.

What happened to $110,000 paid by a campaign committee run by a Broward County political operative to a company run by that same political operative is the subject of a referral from the Florida Division of Elections to the elections commission, which has the power to investigate elections shenanigans.

The Post linked the money to the Kimberly Mitchell campaign for West Palm Beach mayor. But Amy Rose, the woman who runs the committee and whose Broward company received the money, stands to be the one answering questions about the where the money went — if the commission staff finds legal sufficiency to proceed with an investigation.

The complaint did not come from a citizen, who lacking knowledge would not have had enough information to spark a probe. Instead, the Division of Elections, part of the Florida Department of State, has referred “possible reporting violations” involving the committee, Floridians for Accountability, to the elections commission, spokeswoman Meredith Beatrice told The Post.

The Post could not get Rose on the phone, despite daily phone calls, before its story ran on May 17. The story pointed out that Rose and her company, Win on the Ground Consulting, played no visible role in Mitchell’s campaign. The campaign itself made no payments to Rose’s company for services.

Yet, several big donors with ties to Mitchell consultant Richard Pinsky made contributions to Rose’s Tallahassee-based committee, an electioneering communications organization allowed to coordinate with campaigns but not able to solicit votes for a specific candidate.

In March, the month of the election, the committee received $110,250 in contributions and paid out $110,250, all to Rose’s company. It said the money went for consulting services.

Earlier, it had gotten $52,000 from Mitchell-linked contributors and paid out $6,000 of it. However, during that period, Win on the Ground, Rose’s company, gave $14,000 of its own money to two neighborhood committees backing Mitchell.

The nine-member election commission, appointed by the governor, does not comment on investigations until, meeting in secret, it determines whether there’s probable cause for a hearing. That usually takes months. Investigations are made public whether or not probable cause is found. The decision on the first step, legal sufficiency, is not made public.

Marco Rubio’s immigration reform policy and generous prison friends

Immigration reform may yet be a millstone around presidential hopeful Marco Rubio’s neck, Politico speculated today. Rubio+book+vertical

But nothing Rubio has suggested would win him anything but bouquets from Florida-based GEO Group, the prison management  company. It has already showered him and his chief of staff’s former lobbying firm with cash.

GEO bristles at the suggestion that it lobbies for any law that would impact the number of prisoners jailed or immigrants who might be detained.

But it does give to lawmakers who do.

Rubio got $29,700 from GEO and its executives for his Senate run and another $5,000 for his PAC.

Protesters outside GEO’s annual meeting in Palm Beach.
Protesters outside GEO’s annual meeting in Palm Beach.

Then, once in Washington, Rubio named lobbyist Cesar Conda his chief of staff.

Conda continued to accept money from the lobbying firm he co-founded, part of a payout arrangement blessed by Senate ethics advisers.

And Conda’s former lobbying firm quickly started accepting money from GEO. Within months of Conda’s appointment, GEO hired the firm, paying it $100,000.

The next year, GEO boosted payments to $120,000, about the same time Rubio’s support of a border security bill that would almost certainly have grown the number of immigrants in detention.

Conda and Rubio’s office shrugged this all off back in 2013, when The Post was asking questions. It wasn’t important enough for them to answer.

It probably still isn’t, what with a presidential campaign heating up.

But it’s worth noting that Rubio’s major immigrant reform ideas, which for now seem to focus on such things as people who overstay visas and beefing up border security, also would lend themselves to increased detention.

Pro -immigration reform protesters a few blocks from Rubio's local office.
Pro -immigration reform protesters a few blocks from Rubio’s local office.

For a look at where GEO puts its dollars – more than five million of them – Follow The Money provides its analysis here.

Allegations of substandard inmate conditions at facilities run by GEO and its competitor CCA, including immigrant detention facilities, were detailed by The Post in 2013.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The return of Dr. Evil (as if he could stay away)

FOOD+WARS+3
Ah, Dr. Evil, how we’ve missed ‘ye.

Not that we ever doubted you would be back in the fray.

It was just about a year ago that Richard Berman and his ticked-off kitty landed in Palm Beach.
The notorious Washington lobbyist was behind mailers featuring a cantankerous cat urging the island’s wealthy residents to think twice before donating to The Humane Society of the United States.

Dr. Evil's anti- Humane Society kitty
Dr. Evil’s anti- Humane Society kitty

Going after a group dedicated to helping small furry critters is mere child’s play for Berman: Through various companies, he’s gone after Mothers Against Drunk Drivers and advocates for weight loss. He’s worked for Big Tobacco and defended mercury-laden tuna and tanning beds everywhere.
He’s accused PETA of killing animals.

Unlike many in the forefront of controversies, Berman is a cheerful warrior, reveling in his nickname.
And now, a new year, a new cause: The Doc is focusing on letting carbons run free.
The Guardian reports Berman has funneled money through a nonprofit to five front groups attacking proposed EPA rules limiting power plant carbon emissions, as well as funding 16 anti-regulation studies.

That’s classic Dr. E. Money and lobbying are typically handled by a nonprofit he creates with few direct ties to the industries or people behind it. In a taped speech smuggled to the New York Times, Berman crowed, “We run all of this stuff through non-profit organizations that are insulated from having to disclose donors. There is total anonymity.”

Another reason no one has ever accused Berman of being stupid.

Just evil.

Think of the puppies, Gov. Scott!

Gov. Scott does support Everglades critters.
Gov. Scott does support Everglades critters.

As Warren Buffett has helpfully pointed out, lucrative tax deductions are just one more way the rich are different from you and me.

Which is as good an excuse as any during this runup to April 14 to revisit tiny little footnotes to Gov. Rick Scott’s own tax returns from years past.

They are fascinating reading not only for the details of where Scott money was invested, but in the unexpected details of where it wasn’t.

In several states, tax filing paperwork includes an option to get a deduction by contributing to very specific charities.

Very specific animal charities.

Rick and Ann Scott passed on contributing to critters of all kinds: The Colorado Pet Overpopulation Fund, the California Sea Otter Fund, the Colorado Endangered Nongame and Wildlife Fund, the Kentucky Nature and Wildlife Fund, the Kentucky Wild Resource Conservation Fund, the Texas Wild Resource Conservation Fund, the Massachusetts Endangered Wildlife Conservation Fund.

Small potatoes, perhaps, but spinmeisters tending to the governor’s image might have put a bit of on-the-record puppy love to good use: After delighting animal lovers in 2010 by adopting a rescue dog, Scott promptly infuriated animal lovers by giving the retriever back after he won election. The dog — Reagan — is reported to have barked too much.

It should be pointed out that Ann and Rick Scott’s dizzying array of trusts could be supporting a small country and we would not necessarily know it. And we do know the Scotts have given to the Red Cross, Hope for Haiti, the Naples Zoo and the George W. Bush Foundation, among other nonprofits. And they have their own foundation, which may be giving generously to the flora and fauna of the world.

Besides, Scott has larger financial criticisms. Specifically, there are the nagging questions surrounding the blind trust where Scott parked his assets after getting into office, an issue that the -ahem- Florida Bulldog has been chewing over since last year: http://www.floridabulldog.org/2014/03/gov-scott-quietly-rakes-in-millions-from-stock-sales-blind-trust-like-a-removable-blindfold