A single winner bought a ticket at a gas station in Massachusetts to claim a Powerball prize that made for the biggest individual lottery win of all time. Mavis Wanczyk, 53, came forward on Thursday to reveal that she held the winning ticket, worth an estimated $758.7 million.
She purchased her ticket at Pride Station and Store in Chicopee, Massachusetts, about 90 miles west of Boston. Before Wanczyk revealed herself, store workers excitedly scanned surveillance footage after the draw to figure out who had won. They deduced that the winner was probably a middle-aged woman, but couldn’t be certain until Massachusetts Lottery officials confirmed her identity.
“It’s just a pipe dream I’ve always had,” Wanczyk said at a press conference Thursday. “It’s just a chance I had to take.”
Wanczyk, who works at the Chicopee Medical Center nearby said she bought two quick-pick tickets and a third one that she filled out with the winning numbers (6, 7, 16, 23, 26, and powerball 4) by selecting birthdays and her personal lucky number, 4.
Playing the Odds
She defied odds of roughly 1 in 292 million to win and was the first player to do so since June 10. The 20 rollovers since then helped the jackpot climb to such dizzying heights.
The amount this mother to two adult children won was the second largest jackpot in Powerball history. The largest happened in January 2016, when three people picked the numbers to claim their share of $1.6 billion.
The $758.7 million figure is based on the winner accepting an annuity payout option, which would consists of 30 payments of at least $13 million a year for the next 29 years. Most take a lump sum, however, which after accounting for taxes, typically ends up at about 50 percent of their winning total.
Most of these winners (up to 70 percent according to some recent studies) also go broke within five years of hitting the jackpot.
Shifting the Odds
If you’re wondering why these earth-shattering jackpots have all occurred in the last two years, there’s a good reason for it. In 2015, the Multi-State Lottery Association tweaked the rules to make the jackpot harder to win.
By increasing the number of white balls in the draw from 59 to 69, they made it easier to win a small prize ($4 and $7). At the same time, reducing the number of Powerball options from 36 to 26 stretched the odds of winning the jackpot from roughly 175 million to 1 to more than 292 million to 1.
Paradoxically, making something harder to attain can have the effect of making more people want to attain it. The longer odds result in more rollovers, which results in bigger jackpots, which results in more ticket sales from jackpot chasers, which swell the big prize pool even more.
According to the North American Association of State and Provincial Lotteries, national ticket sales in 2016 totaled more than $80 billion, which is up $7 billion from the previous year.
The cyclical formula seems to be working well for the Multi-State Lottery Association and the states and charities its Powerball games benefit.
It’s also worked out pretty well for Mavis Wanczyk, defying astronomical odds.