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Idaho Pulls Out of Powerball Because of Overseas Expansion


Idaho lawmakers moved on Wednesday to pull the state out of the Powerball lottery, setting an end to decades of participation in the popular game because of its plans to expand overseas.

Later this year, the Powerball lottery will expand to Australia and the Britain, a plan that rankled some of the lawmakers and would conflict with a state code that allows only lotteries that are played in the United States and Canada. A group in the Idaho House State Affairs Committee, voting 10 to 4, shut down a proposed bill that would have allowed the Powerball to continue operating in Idaho.

The Powerball is one of the United States’ most popular lotteries, with tickets sold in 45 states as well as in the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Idaho was one of the first states to participate when the Powerball began in the 1990s. Drawings take place twice a week, and involve a person who plucks five white balls numbered 1 to 69 from a spinning heap, along with a red Powerball numbered between 1 and 26.

When someone matches the Powerball (but no white balls), a one-in-38 chance, that winner gets $4. In January, someone in Maryland matched all six numbers and won $731 million, the fourth largest jackpot in Powerball’s history and the sixth largest lottery jackpot ever in the United States.

Idaho residents spend on average $28 million a year to play Powerball, about half of which stays in Idaho and is used to fund public schools and state operated facilities like colleges and universities. Though other state lotteries would still contribute to the state budget, the loss of the Powerball would eliminate about $14 million from it, according to Jeff Anderson, the director of the Idaho Lottery, who spoke at the committee meeting on Wednesday.

But lawmakers were concerned about the international expansion, arguing that it would decrease Idaho residents’ chances of winning or lead to entanglements abroad.

Mr. Anderson, who spoke in support of letting the Powerball continue, said the main goals of the expansion were to attract more players and to increase jackpot sizes. Even with the international expansion, he said, the odds of winning the Powerball jackpot were the “the same everywhere, on each ticket.”

According to the Powerball’s organizers, the overall odds of winning a prize are one in 24.9. The odds of winning the jackpot are much smaller: one in 292.2 million.

Two committee members voiced concerns that the Powerball would eventually be offered in China and Russia. However, Mr. Anderson said that the lottery “is not going to be participating with countries like China,” adding that Australia and the United Kingdom have similar legal systems to the United States.

Another lawmaker expressed concern about the Multi-State Lottery Association, a group of governmental lotteries in the United States, which approved licensing for the Powerball lottery to expand to Australia and Britain on Aug. 23.

“My concern is the delegation of authority, and essentially turning over our sovereignty to this Multi-State Lottery Association,” said State Representative Chris Mathias, a Democrat. “I think we should be concerned that they could be persuaded, they could be lobbied heavily by countries that we are not particularly friendly with.”

State Representative Heather Scott, a Republican, noted that an Idahoan had not won the jackpot in 10 years.

“You don’t have to be a mathematician to realize more people are going to be involved in that,” she said, “and the chances, since we had zero in 10 years, is going to be decreased.” (Powerball odds are calculated by the numbers that can be picked rather than the number of people who buy in, according to Powerball.)

She also raised questions about the involvement of British and Australian lottery organizations, including one that gives a portion of profits to “good causes.”

“What are those good causes? Because they might not be — they probably could be in Australia — anti-gun causes, which they see as good and we see as not good,” Ms. Scott said.

Ultimately, members of the committee decided not to move the bill forward, meaning the last Powerball drawing in Idaho would take place in August.

In a statement, the Idaho Lottery said that it remained hopeful for a solution.

“Yesterday, the Idaho House State Affairs Committee held a bill in committee that would have allowed Idahoans to continue to play the Powerball game,” the statement said. “Work continues with the Legislature to determine an alternative path forward to ensure no disruption in service to Idaho’s single most popular lottery game, for the benefit of Idaho’s public schools and buildings.”

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