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Where Does the Powerball Money Go?

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The estimated jackpot for Wednesday’s Powerball drawing is a record-breaking $1.4 billion—just think about what you could do with all that money! Actually, don’t think about it. Statistically, it’s essentially impossible for you to win. As Scott A. Norris, an assistant professor of mathematics at Southern Methodist University, told the Associated Press, "It's probably still not going to happen if you buy a hundred tickets or a thousand tickets or even a million tickets."

The chances of winning hover around the one-in-292-million range, and your long shot is getting longer by the minute. According to the executive director of the Texas Lottery, they were “selling more than $1.2 million in Powerball tickets every single minute.” So, at least someone is making money off Powerball—but where, and to whom, does all that cash go?

Forty-seven separate lotteries offer Powerball (it’s played in 44 states, plus D.C., Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands). According to a press document [downloadable file] from the Multi-State Lottery Association (MUSL), the organization that runs Powerball, total sales of Powerball tickets since its inception in April 1992 come to roughly $55.8 billion (through January 9, 2016). Since that time, they have paid jackpot winners a combined $16.5 billion; non-jackpot, tertiary winners have won a combined total of around $11.8 billion. This means that roughly half of the money that has been made from Powerball ticket sales has gone to the winners themselves.

As for the rest? Well, that depends. According to the MUSL, “All profits from the games are kept by the state that sells the ticket.” States must pay for expenses before counting the funds as profit, however. These expenses include advertising, salaries for lotto commission workers, vendor fees, and things like “central accounting and the purchase of government securities to fund annuitized prizes.” Once those are paid for, states can tally their profits—and that's where things get interesting.

Some state-run lottery programs make a pittance. According to a 2012 NBC News story, Rhode Island reported that their lotto program added just 11 cents per dollar of ticket sales to the state's annual budget. Others, however, do much better. Oregon, for example, “generated 50 cents in profits for each dollar of ticket sales” in 2011. These revenues vary for a slew of different reasons, like the number of players in the state and the efficiency of the lotto program itself. According to the NBC report, some states “boost their take…by turning over their lottery operations to private companies.”

Once net profits are totaled, it’s up to the state to decide what they’ll do with the money. A common benefactor of lottery profits are education budgets. (All profits for Virginia Lottery sales, for example, go to a K-12 education fund). Research has also shown that some states count lottery profits as general revenue, or use them to subsidize tax cuts promised by politicians, making them a sort of hidden, “voluntary tax.” For your state, a quick Google search for its annual budget report can help reveal more specific information.

While the $2 spent on a Powerball ticket goes a lot of places, don’t count on it ever coming back to you in full.

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Why Does Turkey Make You Tired?
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Why do people have such a hard time staying awake after Thanksgiving dinner? Most people blame tryptophan, but that's not really the main culprit. And what is tryptophan, anyway?

Tryptophan is an amino acid that the body uses in the processes of making vitamin B3 and serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps regulate sleep. It can't be produced by our bodies, so we need to get it through our diet. From which foods, exactly? Turkey, of course, but also other meats, chocolate, bananas, mangoes, dairy products, eggs, chickpeas, peanuts, and a slew of other foods. Some of these foods, like cheddar cheese, have more tryptophan per gram than turkey. Tryptophan doesn't have much of an impact unless it's taken on an empty stomach and in an amount larger than what we're getting from our drumstick. So why does turkey get the rap as a one-way ticket to a nap?

The urge to snooze is more the fault of the average Thanksgiving meal and all the food and booze that go with it. Here are a few things that play into the nap factor:

Fats: That turkey skin is delicious, but fats take a lot of energy to digest, so the body redirects blood to the digestive system. Reduced blood flow in the rest of the body means reduced energy.

Alcohol: What Homer Simpson called the cause of—and solution to—all of life's problems is also a central nervous system depressant.

Overeating: Same deal as fats. It takes a lot of energy to digest a big feast (the average Thanksgiving meal contains 3000 calories and 229 grams of fat), so blood is sent to the digestive process system, leaving the brain a little tired.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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How Are Balloons Chosen for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade?
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The balloons for this year's Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade range from the classics like Charlie Brown to more modern characters who have debuted in the past few years, including The Elf On The Shelf. New to the parade this year are Olaf from Disney's Frozen and Chase from Paw Patrol. But how does the retail giant choose which characters will appear in the lineup?

Balloon characters are chosen in different ways. For example, in 2011, Macy’s requested B. Boy after parade organizers saw the Tim Burton retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art. (The company had been adding a series of art balloons to the parade lineup since 2005, which it called the Blue Sky Gallery.) When it comes to commercial balloons, though, it appears to be all about the Benjamins.

First-time balloons cost at least $190,000—this covers admission into the parade and the cost of balloon construction. After the initial year, companies can expect to pay Macy’s about $90,000 to get a character into the parade lineup. If you consider that the balloons are out for only an hour or so, that’s about $1500 a minute.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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