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Slim chance of winning Powerball doesn’t stop rush to buy tickets

Mark Perez is in charge of his office’s lottery ticket pool. He bought $100 worth of Powerball tickets Friday morning at a downtown Buffalo convenience store.

Perez and his co-workers play any time the jackpot reaches at least $100 million.

Despite Powerball’s ridiculously poor odds – buying a ticket brings a 1 in 292.2 million chance of winning – there still is a reason to get in the game, said Perez, of the City of Tonawanda.

“Someone’s got to win, right?” Perez said, standing outside the Downtown Trading Company at Broadway and Oak Street.

The record-breaking Powerball grand prize, which grew to $800 million by late Friday morning, has been called the largest lottery jackpot in U.S. history. The drawing will come at 10:59 p.m. Saturday.

While a winning ticket carries a monstrous financial windfall, odds of winning are microscopically small.

To give it some context, a person is 25 times more likely to be elected the next president of the United States than to win Powerball, according to Jeffrey Miecznikowski, associate professor of biostatistics at the University at Buffalo’s School of Public Health and Health Professions.

That statistic on winning the presidency assumes that everyone has an equal chance of winning, Miecznikowski said.

A person’s chances of winning Powerball are roughly the same as flipping a coin 28 times and the coin landing on heads each and every time, he said.

The Powerball grand prize was $500 million on Wednesday, but there were no winners in the drawing that night.

From Nov. 7 through Wednesday, about $87.4 million in Powerball tickets were sold in New York, according to the state Gaming Commission. New York is one of 44 states – along with Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands – where Powerball is played.

About $2.6 million worth of tickets were sold in Erie County over the same period. That is the ninth most of New York’s counties during the same period, according to data supplied by the state Gaming Commission.

Leading the way in Powerball wagers is Manhattan, where $12.6 million has been plunked down, followed by Queens, Brooklyn, Suffolk, Nassau, Bronx, Westchester and Richmond counties.

Upstate, Monroe lottery players have spent $1.6 million on Powerball tickets, with Onondaga County residents spending $1.3 million placing bets. Niagara County Powerball retailers have taken in $576,000.

On a per-resident basis, though, Erie County bettors trail far behind some downstate areas.

In Erie, $3 has been bet during the period if every resident of the county were factored in, compared with $8 per resident in Manhattan and $6 per resident apiece in Staten Island and Westchester County.

The Gaming Commission reported $8.7 million in statewide Powerball ticket sales on Thursday, with $475,000 being spent around the state between 7 a.m. and 8 a.m. Friday.

“I usually just do scratch offs,” said Frank Vega of Buffalo, who bought two Powerball tickets at the Downtown Trading Company. The jackpot had risen to roughly $700 million at the time Vega bought his tickets.

At first, Vega wasn’t sure exactly what he would do if he won the gigantic prize, but he was pretty sure he’d be able to find things to spend it on.

“Go sightseeing, go vacationing, try to get a nice house somewhere,” Vega said.

Despite Powerball’s extremely low odds of winning, it isn’t the hardest thing to do.

Depending on their strategy, said Miecznikowski, the UB professor, a person is 500 times more likely to win Powerball than to pick a perfect bracket for the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.

Albany Bureau Chief Tom Precious contributed to this story. email: abesecker@buffnews.com