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PA Ranks No. 1 For Most Powerball Jackpots, But You Probably Still Won't Win

Sarah Kovash
90.5 WESA
Winning numbers will be picked Wednesday night for the record-breaking $1.5 billion Powerball jackpot.

Some people dream of buying an island, finally paying off their student loans or getting a fancy car. If James Helterbran of Sheraden wins the Powerball, he's taking care of mom.

“I’d help her," Helterbran said, holding a handful of tickets at a CoGo’s on the South Side. "You know, get a personal care person for her. And my dad’s just as bad, so make sure I take care of them and my church, and everybody in my family and some close friends.” 

Helterbran is one of millions shelling out $2 each -- $3 with a multiplier -- for a chance at the $1.5 billion Powerball jackpot up for grabs Wednesday night.

The already record-breaking lottery went unclaimed Saturday. But history may be on Helterbran's side. Pennsylvanians have collectively won 17 jackpots since joining the Powerball family in 2002, more than any of the other 44 states that participate in the lottery.

Pennsylvania Lottery spokesman Gary Miller said the last time, a Pennsylvanian walked away with $77.4 million in June 2013. Only Indiana and Missouri come close, boasting 11 winners each, according to the Multi-State Lottery Association.

But does Pennsylvania’s record mean that Pittsburghers are more likely to win?

“What’s worth asking is, why has Pennsylvania won more than any other state?” said Antony Davies, associate professor of economics at Duquesne University. “And the answer is likely because Pennsylvanians play more, or there are more Pennsylvanians to play.”

Davies explained that, although many Pennsylvanians have won the jackpot, it all comes down to random chance. Just because it’s happened then, doesn't mean it will happen again.

“What they should expect is to lose,” Davies said. “The probability of winning the lottery is infinitesimally small. I mean, so small that you have to start doing ridiculous things. Like say, you know, the likelihood of a vending machine falling on top of you is three times the probability of winning the lottery.”

Even if you do win in Pennsylvania, the total prize of $1.5 billion is a little misleading.

That figure only applies to people who take the cash in equal payouts over 30 years. After taxes, that leaves you about $1,125,000,000, according to USAMega, which tracks lottery winnings.

But most people take the lump sum, so that’s $697,500,000, which would also bump you into the nation's highest tax bracket. So when you hit it big, set aside up to another $219,000,000 for when Uncle Sam comes to call.

And although you have no control over your likelihood of winning, Davies said there is one thing you can try.

“You do have some control over how many other people win along with you,” he said. “So if you select numbers that other people might commonly select, you know, jersey numbers of popular Steelers, or your birthday or something like that. The odds are that there are a decent number of other people who are also selecting those numbers. And if that number comes up, that means that you have to share the prize.”

And ultimately, it's not always about winning. It's the possibility of winning. 

"No matter where a ticket is sold, it has an equal chance of winning the lottery," Miller said. “Remember, you only need $2 and a dream.”

90.5 WESA reporter Liz Reid and fellow Brandon Addeo contributed to this report.

Gregg Daily, Financial Advisor with Fragrasso Financial, shares his thoughts on the Powerball Jackpot with Essential Pittsburgh host Paul Guggenheimer on Wednesday, Jan. 13.

More Essential Pittsburgh segments can be heard here.

Sarah Kovash previously worked as a web producer for KDKA-TV, as a freelance journalist for the Valley News Dispatch covering local government throughout the Alle-Kiski Valley and at NPR station KPBS in San Diego.