Powerball winner could do a lot with $800 million jackpot

The Wichita Eagle

No one has won the Powerball jackpot since early November.

But there’s no reason you couldn’t be the winner of its predicted $800 million jackpot on Saturday evening.

You’d just have to overcome some pretty high odds to do it.

As of 1 p.m. Friday, Powerball ticket sales in Kansas had surpassed $1.4 million since Wednesday’s drawing, according to the Kansas Lottery.

Odds of winning

The odds of winning Saturday’s jackpot are approximately 1 in 292.2 million, according to the Powerball website.

Those are not exactly great odds, but it’s technically possible.

Nora Strasser, a mathematics professor at Friends University, said even buying multiple tickets won’t increase your odds significantly.

“(The odds would) still be so small that it would hardly matter,” she said.

The odds of hitting the jackpot are about the same as those of flipping a quarter and getting heads 28 times in a row, said Jeffrey Miecznikowski, associate professor of biostatistics at the University at Buffalo in New York.

“The probability is so small, dare say impossible,” Miecznikowski said. “It’s like trying to count electrons or drops of water in the ocean or grains of sand in the world. We just can’t imagine these types of things.”

Some other things that would be more likely to happen than winning the Powerball jackpot on Saturday, according to Gregory Baer’s book “Life: The Odds and How to Improve Them”: becoming president of the United States (about 1 in 10 million) and being canonized a saint in the Catholic Church (about 1 in 20 million).

How can you improve your odds at winning?

Scott A. Norris, an assistant professor of mathematics at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, said there’s no trick to playing the lottery, but your tiny odds of winning are a bit better if you let the computer pick the numbers rather than choosing them yourself. That’s because when people use birthdates or other favorite figures, they generally choose numbers 31 or below. That ignores the fact that there are 69 numbered balls.

Even though no data whatsoever supports this claim, it’s likely your odds of winning the Powerball jackpot are about the same as the odds of the Looney Tunes winning against the Monstars in “Space Jam.”

But look what happened there.

How much would you actually take home?

If you think anyone who wins Saturday’s jackpot will pocket $800 million, you’re mistaken.

Lottery winners have two options when it comes to collecting the winnings. They can take a one-time cash payment – significantly less than the jackpot’s advertised total – immediately, or they can receive yearly payments disbursing the winnings over 29 years and 30 payments.

Let’s examine both scenarios, starting with the lump sum option.

If you or your neighbor in Wichita were to win the $800 million Powerball jackpot on Saturday, the immediate cash payout would be about $496 million, according to the Powerball website.

But those winnings are subject to both federal and state taxes, and having $496 million in your income puts you squarely in the highest federal tax bracket – a whopping 39.6 percent.

The federal government will withhold 25 percent of that before the money even gets to a winner, the rest being paid at tax time.

And Kansas withholds 5 percent of the winnings, according to Sally Lunsford, director of public affairs for the Kansas Lottery.

After taking federal and state income taxes out of your lump sum, at the end of the year, you would end up with slightly more than $274 million.

That’s a far cry from $800 million, but still nothing to scoff at.

If you were to win and choose the yearly annuity option, your yearly payout would be in the range of $20 million to $30 million.

The annual payments increase by 4 percent every year to keep up with inflation, and they increase yearly “to keep pace with the winner’s expected cost of living,” according to the Kansas Lottery website.

However, those annual payments are subject to federal and state taxes every year – even a $25 million annual income will place you in the 39.6 percent federal tax bracket.

What you could buy with Saturday’s winnings

For imagination’s sake, say you won Saturday’s jackpot and chose to take the cash lump sum of $496 million.

After taxes, with your $274 million in hand, you could:

▪ Get your name on a building at Wichita State University.

It’s one of the most permanent ways to leave a legacy – in bricks and mortar.

With progress being made on the university’s upcoming Innovation Campus, there are plenty of opportunities to donate enough money to the school to get your name on a building.

Just for comparison, in 1987, Tom and Myra Devlin donated $1 million to the school toward construction of an entrepreneurship center, which came to be known as Devlin Hall. It was part of a total $5 million donation to the university.

If you were to adjust for inflation, that would be about a $2.09 million donation in 2015.

But just to be sure, you could go ahead and donate the equivalent of Devlin’s $5 million donation, which would be about $10.4 million.

Or you could one-up Koch Industries and the Mary and Fred Koch Foundation’s record-breaking $11.25 million one-time gift to the university in 2014.

That would surely guarantee your name in stone.

▪ Float a luxury yacht in Cheney Lake.

What says Kansas more than a life on the high seas?

Or, um, lakes?

For a mere $130 million, you could have a brand-new 154-foot-long yacht featuring six bedrooms for your guests and crew quarters for the crew you’ll have to hire.

At four decks tall, your yacht would be the undisputed king of Cheney Lake.

Your yacht is equipped for travel up and down the U.S. coastlines, which means it could lap around the lake hundreds of times.

▪ Build your own mansion.

Sure, you could buy land in the country and build your own mansion from the ground up, but when you’re a Powerball winner, you want to make a statement.

That’s why you should purchase the 38-acre Judge Riddel Boys Ranch near Lake Afton from Sedgwick County in cold, hard cash.

The Sedgwick County Commission is looking either to sell or lease the ranch, which was shuttered in 2014.

About $10 million would probably purchase the building and land and make needed repairs.

Another $15 million or so should transform the building into your rustic rural paradise, complete with granite pillars and a Wurlitzer pipe organ in the entry way.

▪ Pay the Wichita Symphony Orchestra to play at said mansion every night.

Long, stressful days at the office would end on a slightly less stressful note if you could come home to 55 musicians playing Mozart and Verdi.

Just think: Wouldn’t Tchaikovsky be the perfect accompaniment to your ravioli dinner at your 15-foot-long table?

If you’ve already built a mansion, you might as well take this next step.

The Wichita Symphony Orchestra doesn’t do anything like this now, but operations manager Anne Marie Brown imagined how much it would cost.

If you were to rent the symphony for one of its two-hour classical performances – accompanying cocktail hour and dinner – it would be about $80,000 per performance.

The symphony’s two-hour “pops” performance would cost around $65,000 per performance.

If you rented the WSO every day, you’d be able to do so for more than nine years for $274 million.

If you mixed in a few pops performances, you could stretch it out over 10 to 11 years.

▪ Fund your favorite charity for a century.

Many people, when talking about winning the lottery, say they would donate a significant portion of the money to charity.

In Wichita, you would be able to fund your chosen charity for years.

For example, in fiscal year 2014, Inter-Faith Ministries reported having $1,427,882 in expenses.

Assuming those expenses remain about the same every year, with $274 million, you could fund Inter-Faith Ministries for more than 191 years.

Contributing: Associated Press

Matt Riedl: 316-268-6660, @RiedlMatt

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