What you need to know about Powerball

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Screen grab from the Powerball ad.

Would you play a game where your odds of winning the top prize were 175, 223, 510 to 1? According to Caltech professor of mathematics Gary Lorden those are the awesome odds you confront if you’re trying to take home tens of millions of dollars from Powerball, the new game of chance that joins the California Lottery starting today. But when have long odds ever mattered in gambling?

Powerball is a multi-state, mega-jackpot game, where the jackpot starts at $40 million. Every drawing that doesn’t produce a winner increases the pot by another $10 million. You play it by buying a $2 ticket and picking five numbers from 1 to 59 and one Powerball number. If you don’t want to pick the numbers yourself, a computer will do it for you. Drawings are held every Wednesday and Saturday in a studio in Florida.

California is the 43rd state to introduce Powerball, which is also played in Washington D.C. and the U.S. Virgin Islands.  California Lottery commissioners voted to approve the game last year, saying that Powerball sales would raise tens of millions of dollars for public education in the state annually. (Remember, raising money for K-12 education is why we’re supposed to have California Lottery in the first place.) Critics of the  lottery, though, question those fundraising figures, saying only 2% of public ed. funding comes from lottery revenues. They also worry that adding another game to the California Lottery will increase gambling addiction in the state, especially among those  people who can least afford to spend their money on games of chance.

But such concerns aren’t standing in the way of California Lottery officials who have spent a reported $8.4 million on a statewide Powerball advertising blitz, one that equates the game with the landing on the moon and the fall of the Berlin Wall.

You can hear our story about Powerball here:

If you want to see an example of the advertising campaign around Powerball, check out this high-concept commercial here. You may never listen to “California Dreamin'” the same way ever again.