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America waits for Powerball jackpot winners to reveal themselves

November 29, 2012|By Michael Muskal

Someone missing at work on Thursday? For many in Arizona and Missouri, that was just one more reason to speculate on who won the record Powerball lottery whose golden tickets were sold in those states.

And while America was waiting to learn who will share in the estimated $587.5-million jackpot, lottery officials prepared to hold news conferences Thursday to highlight the establishments where the winning tickets were sold. Everybody loves a winner, but in the lottery world, the sellers of winning tickets get to share the lucky spotlight.

On Wednesday night, officials drew the winning numbers -- 5, 16, 22, 23, 29, and 6 as the powerball. Two winning tickets will split the jackpot, the largest in Powerball history and the second-largest lottery prize in U.S. history.

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All that is known so far is that one of the winning tickets was sold in the Kansas City area and the other was in Arizona. The winners have 180 days to claim their prize.

Like many forms of gambling, the lottery runs on selling the dream of instant riches, mainly to people who most likely will never have a chance to earn any amount close to a major jackpot.

That the odds of winning are almost one in 176 million rarely serves as a damper on the frenzy, designed to up the drama and the eventual net proceeds that go to the states who are sponsors. (About $1 of each $2 ticket goes to fund the prizes, with the rest going to the states -- minus the administrative costs to run the lottery.)

The record Powerball lottery was no different. At its peak, tickets were selling at a rate of about 130,000 a minute -- the equivalent of a small city picking numerical combinations (or more likely allowing a machine to randomly choose them). That surge is partly responsible for driving up the jackpot to astronomical heights.

It was also fueled by the lack of a winner in earlier rounds. Wednesday’s jackpot had been increased by 16 consecutive failures to pick a winner, rolling over the pot.

One reason for a delay in winners coming forward may be their need to figure out a financial strategy. Winners can be paid over time, for the full $587.5 million, or all at once, for a cash value of $384.7 million.

There are also tax and investment issues that can require some expertise. For example, with the federal government weighing increased taxation on the rich as one way to solve the issues connected to the so-called fiscal cliff, some people may want to pull the income into this year instead of next.

And of course, if the winning ticket was bought by a group such as an office pool, it may take some time to round up the winners and figure out the next step.

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