CLOSE
Getty Images
Getty Images

Where Does the Powerball Money Go?

Getty Images
Getty Images

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.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
Big Questions
Are There Number 1 Pencils?
iStock
iStock

Almost every syllabus, teacher, and standardized test points to the ubiquitous No. 2 pencil, but are there other choices out there?

Of course! Pencil makers manufacture No. 1, 2, 2.5, 3, and 4 pencils—and sometimes other intermediate numbers. The higher the number, the harder the core and lighter the markings. (No. 1 pencils produce darker markings, which are sometimes preferred by people working in publishing.)

The current style of production is profiled after pencils developed in 1794 by Nicolas-Jacques Conté. Before Conté, pencil hardness varied from location to location and maker to maker. The earliest pencils were made by filling a wood shaft with raw graphite, leading to the need for a trade-wide recognized method of production.

Conté’s method involved mixing powdered graphite with finely ground clay; that mixture was shaped into a long cylinder and then baked in an oven. The proportion of clay versus graphite added to a mixture determines the hardness of the lead. Although the method may be agreed upon, the way various companies categorize and label pencils isn't.

Today, many U.S.  companies use a numbering system for general-purpose, writing pencils that specifies how hard the lead is. For graphic and artist pencils and for companies outside the U.S., systems get a little complicated, using a combination of numbers and letters known as the HB Graphite Scale.

"H" indicates hardness and "B" indicates blackness. Lowest on the scale is 9H, indicating a pencil with extremely hard lead that produces a light mark. On the opposite end of the scale, 9B represents a pencil with extremely soft lead that produces a dark mark. ("F" also indicates a pencil that sharpens to a fine point.) The middle of the scale shows the letters and numbers that correspond to everyday writing utensils: B = No. 1 pencils, HB = No. 2, F = No. 2½, H = No. 3, and 2H = No. 4 (although exact conversions depend on the brand).

So why are testing centers such sticklers about using only No. 2 pencils? They cooperate better with technology because early machines used the electrical conductivity of the lead to read the pencil marks. Early scanning-and-scoring machines couldn't detect marks made by harder pencils, so No. 3 and No. 4 pencils usually resulted in erroneous results. Softer pencils like No. 1s smudge, so they're just impractical to use. So No. 2 pencils became the industry standard.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
WANG ZHAO/AFP/Getty Images
arrow
Big Questions
What Are Curlers Yelling About?
WANG ZHAO/AFP/Getty Images
WANG ZHAO/AFP/Getty Images

Curling is a sport that prides itself on civility—in fact, one of its key tenets is known as the “Spirit of Curling,” a term that illustrates the respect that the athletes have for both their own teammates and their opponents. But if you’re one of the millions of people who get absorbed by the sport once every four years, you probably noticed one quirk that is decidedly uncivilized: the yelling.

Watch any curling match and you’ll hear skips—or captains—on both sides barking and shouting as the 42-pound stone rumbles down the ice. This isn’t trash talk; it’s strategy. And, of course, curlers have their own jargon, so while their screams won’t make a whole lot of sense to the uninitiated, they could decide whether or not a team will have a spot on the podium once these Olympics are over.

For instance, when you hear a skip shouting “Whoa!” it means he or she needs their teammates to stop sweeping. Shouting “Hard!” means the others need to start sweeping faster. If that’s still not getting the job done, yelling “Hurry hard!” will likely drive the point home: pick up the intensity and sweep with downward pressure. A "Clean!" yell means put a brush on the ice but apply no pressure. This will clear the ice so the stone can glide more easily.

There's no regulation for the shouts, though—curler Erika Brown says she shouts “Right off!” and “Whoa!” to get her teammates to stop sweeping. And when it's time for the team to start sweeping, you might hear "Yes!" or "Sweep!" or "Get on it!" The actual terminology isn't as important as how the phrase is shouted. Curling is a sport predicated on feel, and it’s often the volume and urgency in the skip’s voice (and what shade of red they’re turning) that’s the most important aspect of the shouting.

If you need any more reason to make curling your favorite winter sport, once all that yelling is over and a winner is declared, it's not uncommon for both teams to go out for a round of drinks afterwards (with the winners picking up the tab, obviously). Find out how you can pick up a brush and learn the ins and outs of curling with our beginner's guide.

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

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios