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Oh, the things you'd buy: Dreams of big money help drive Powerball sales

GRAND FORKS -- It's almost a certainty that you won't become a billionaire by winning the Powerball. The odds of winning the estimated jackpot of $1.5 billion today is roughly one in 292 million, according to the Multi-State Lottery Association. ...

GRAND FORKS -- It's almost a certainty that you won't become a billionaire by winning the Powerball.

The odds of winning the estimated jackpot of $1.5 billion today is roughly one in 292 million, according to the Multi-State Lottery Association.

Those are not good odds. One might even say they are very bad odds.

Given those widely reported figures, why are people lining up for their (very small) chance of striking it rich, which, for emphasis, is almost certainly not going to happen?

For one, you could buy a lot with $1.5 billion even after taxes kick in. The actual winnings depend on which state you live in and whether you take the winnings as a lump sum or spread out over time.

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But let's say, for funsies, that taxes don't exist, you win the Powerball and your bank account swells to $1.5 billion overnight. What do you do?

Here's what you could do: Pay off the college student loan debt of roughly 50,000 people, buy more than 18,000 new Cadillac Escalades--the priciest vehicle listed on Cars.com in Grand Forks--or buy from University of North Dakota’s hockey coach Dave Hakstol's old house 1,300 times. You could do the state of North Dakota a favor and pay for the new UND School of Medicine and Health Sciences building and still have almost $1.4 billion to spare.

If you handled the money wisely, you'd have all of the financial security you could imagine--that is, unless some sudden global disaster thrusts us into a Mad Max-style dystopia and money becomes meaningless. But in the absence of that, you'd be pretty wealthy.

Of course, you wouldn't do all of those things--imagine the driveway you'd need for 18,000 Escalades. And Debbie Albert, a certified financial adviser with Ameriprise Financial Services in Grand Forks, suggested immediately hiring a tax accountant, attorney and financial planner to "analyze solutions based on your situation."

"Spend wisely and control the urge to spend lavishly," she wrote in an email, adding that winners may want to think about existing debt and what charities they care about. "The good fortune could provide you and your family security for many years to come."

Regardless of what winners would use the money for or the astronomical odds, the large jackpot appears to be driving an increase in Powerball ticket sales recently. Minnesota lottery officials said Saturday they were selling at $8,643 per minute, and in North Dakota, total lottery sales totaled more than $4.1 million last week, roughly 10 times the average weekly sales of $400,000 to $450,000.

"The Powerball jackpot kind of runs everything," said Ryan Koppy, sales and marketing manager at the North Dakota Lottery. "You see sales of the other games kind of increase as the jackpot goes up for Powerball."

Americans spent more than $70 billion on the lottery in fiscal year 2014, according to the North American Association of State and Provincial Lotteries. That's much more than CNN says we spent on books, music and movie tickets.

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Along with regular customers, the big potential payout is also attracting those who wouldn't normally buy, such as Ric Ferraro, a UND psychology professor.

"I think that's the reason my wife and I have recently purchased a couple of tickets, just more of the curiosity," he said.

Ferraro noted the lottery has its benefits, such as bolstering the state's coffers. According to unaudited figures provided by Koppy, the North Dakota Lottery transferred $6.1 million to the state's general fund in the year ending June 30. It also transferred $200,000 to the Compulsive Gambling Prevention and Treatment fund and $422,500 to the Multi-Jurisdictional Drug Task Force grant fund.

But Ferraro said lotteries also tend to attract people who would be better off spending that money on essentials.

"People can do whatever, free will is free will," he said. "But if you don't have the money and you have other things that are a much higher priority ... then you probably shouldn't spend as much."

As a state lottery employee, Koppy can't purchase Powerball tickets. That doesn't prevent him from thinking of what he'd do with the money.

"That's the fun behind it, the entertainment," he said. "It only takes one ticket."

One out of 292 million, that is.

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