How Powerball became a jackpot juggernaut
$200 million jackpots happening at a record pace.
Powerball has morphed into a jackpot juggernaut - the big gorilla of the lottery world - topping $200 million for the third time this year.
As in since January.
The last time was just six weeks ago, when New Jersey's Pedro Quezada hit an annuity prize worth $338.3 million, and collected $211 million in cash.
Because no one hit all the numbers drawn Saturday night - 7, 12, 26, 36 and 40, with a Powerball of 17 - the jackpot rose to $222 million for the annuity, or $144.5 million for the lump sum payout.
It used to be typical for Powerball to go six months between $200 million jackpots. Just two reached that milestone in each of 2007, 2008 and 2009.
Since last May, seven Powerball jackpots have topped $200 million, including a game record annuity of $587 million in November and two others that surpassed $300 million.
In that time, rival Mega Millions hasn't had a single jackpot top $200 million.
As in zero.
Its current jackpot has been growing for nearly two months but its $139 million annuity is far back in Powerball's dust. (No one hit all the numbers drawn Friday night in Mega Millions: 2, 20, 34, 42 and 54, with a Mega Ball of 39.)
In fairness, Mega Million's previous major jackpot was quite a doozy, the all-time U.S. lottery record of $656 million, set on March 30, 2012.
But since then, Powerball has dominated.
Powerball's surge over the last five years can be traced back to a series of calculated changes - especially a set of changes early last year.
More and more states. Florida joined Powerball in 2009. When cross-selling began with Mega Millions states in January 2010, Powerball added 10 of the nation's most populous states, including New York, Texas, Illinois, Michigan, Virginia and New Jersey. In April, Powerball added the most populous state of all, California. (Cross-selling greatly benefited Mega Millions, too - witness its record jackpot.)
Hikes in minimum jackpots. In 2009, Powerball's minimum jackpot was increased to $20 million and touted as "the largest starting jackpot in the world." That was doubled to $40 million in January 2012, as part of a set of major changes. By contrast, Mega Million's minimum is $12 million. That means it can take weeks to catch up to Powerball's $40 million starting point.
Bigger secondary prizes. In early 2009, Powerball's second prize of $200,000 became automatically boosted to $1 million for anyone also purchasing the Power Play multiplier option. In early 2012, the second prize was lifted to $1 million, with $2 million awarded if the player also had the Power Play. Mega Millions once had an edge with its $250,000 second-tier prize, but now that's considerably smaller. (And you'd never know from visiting Mega Millions' website if anyone won $1 million by adding the Megaplier.)
More money pumped into jackpots. Powerball's January 2011 redesign not only funneled a greater percentage of revenue in jackpots, but raised the minimum increase between drawings to $10 million.
$2 tickets. Since January 2012, a Powerball ticket has cost $2 - twice as much as a Mega Million bet. But instead of hurting sales, that's helped Powerball in a couple of key ways. It only needs to sell half as many tickets as Mega Millions to fuel a similar jackpot increase. The fewer tickets, in turn, is actually a major boon to jackpot building, since the chances are less that anyone will hit. Look at it this way: $2 means two chances to win Mega Millions but only one in Powerball, since the odds of winning per ticket are almost the same.
Given Powerball's success, don't be surprised to see more changes - and record jackpots - coming. Mega Millions seems overdue for an overhaul. But officials have also hinted at the development of a new kind of national game, without divulging any details.