HARLEM, Manhattan (PIX11) — At $1 billion and counting, Monday’s Powerball lottery has one of the biggest jackpots ever. While everybody wants to win, the chances of doing so are infinitesimally small — 1 in 292 million. Still, as a lottery historian points out, purchasing one or two tickets is an inexpensive way to participate in a process that’s come to reflect current American culture.
All across the tri-state area, people were buying tickets for the Halloween Night drawing.
At Columbus Food Corp. deli on the Upper West Side, a customer who only gave his first name, Larry, made a declaration while showing his Powerball ticket.
“I got it right here, Papa,” he said, claiming to have the ticket that will win the jackpot.
Everybody that PIX11 News encountered made the same claim. It’s understandable when the jackpot is so big.
In fact, a ticket buyer at the CD West Harlem Deli, Tanesha Mosley, said that she couldn’t fully get her head around how big the prize money is. “We’ve gotta hit the million!” she exclaimed, and then corrected herself. “A billion, a billion, a billion, baby!”
It’s the second-biggest Powerball jackpot ever and the fifth largest of all lottery jackpots in history, and it’s still growing.
So were the lines to purchase tickets. At the Harlem deli where Mosley bought her ticket, demand was significant. Part of the reason for that was evident in signs posted around the business: it sold the largest New York jackpot of all time, $343.9 million, four years ago.
One of the people in line to buy a ticket, Dondi Gwyn, knows the man who’d won that jackpot, Robert Bailey.
“He gave everybody $1,000,” Gwyn reported. He went on to clarify that Bailey had given $1,000 each to a variety of people the lottery winner had known in the neighborhood, including Gwyn.
He’d said that Bailey had traveled to Las Vegas after winning the Powerball jackpot and later decided to move there from Harlem.
When asked if the jackpot deli could sell another winning ticket, Gwyn pointed to another sign in the deli that showed how it had sold a winning scratch-off ticket for a more than $800 payout just days before. He said that he’d take whatever jackpot he could get.
“Just give me five numbers,” he said, referring to a lesser Powerball payout. “I’ll take a million dollars.”
The full jackpot is paid out when somebody matches five numbers plus the Powerball number. It results in the $1 billion payday.
Jonathan D. Cohen, an expert on the history of gambling in the United States, and author of “For A Dollar and a Dream: State Lotteries in Modern America,” said that the $1 billion payout is consistent with changes in American society.
“I don’t think it’s coincidence that the jackpots have gotten bigger,” Cohen said in an interview.
His book says that as the richest Americans have gotten richer, and wealth has become more prized in American culture, lotteries have intentionally narrowed odds to make for bigger jackpots. It’s part of what he calls a growing “celebration of wealth” in the American psyche.
That can have risks, he warned.
“A lot of people turn to lotteries, like the $1 billion lottery this week,” Cohen said, “as their best hope for a windfall, and their best hope for a new life.”
He added that buying just one or two tickets is a harmless way to buy into that myth.
That’s what PIX11 News observed most people doing at CD West Harlem Deli. They were also keeping their plans for their hoped for winnings sensible, and generous.
One woman buying a ticket, who only gave her first name, Gloria, said that she’d share her winnings with “family and friends. And invest,” she added.
Layna Portoreal echoed that message. “I’ll try to share with my sisters,” she said, then added that she’d also opt for some opulence. “I’ll also be getting the big house!”