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Powerball purchase

Nick Weerts of Madison receives his Powerball lottery tickets at Woodman’s grocery store on the East Side, hours before the Jan. 13 drawing for the $1.6 billion jackpot. Would-be lottery winners should be leery of online offers to share a ticket's payoff. 

JOHN HART — State Journal archives

On the face of it, Wisconsin Powerball lottery players took home a mostly empty pot from that gazillion-dollar Powerball party held over two weeks in early January.

The $1.6 billion jackpot run coughed up 22 notable Wisconsin winners of $50,000 each. That equals a modest $1.1 million of winnings paid here.

The Department of Revenue, which oversees the lottery games, was busy with updates and payout calculations throughout the run, which began Nov. 7 and ended Jan. 13, with the record jackpot split between ticket holders in California, Florida and Tennessee.

The trickle-down results, however, have been fairly potent, because Wisconsin gets to keep 68.71 percent of its sales. Of that sum, 30.9 percent goes to property tax relief, a directive of the state constitution.

So, sales in Wisconsin of $2 Powerball tickets went from $932,665 during the week of Nov. 14 to $21.7 million for the week ending Jan. 9.

The next week, when the jackpot hit $1.6 billion on Jan. 13, Powerball sales dropped to just over $21 million, but that was because the winner was picked in the midweek drawing. That Wednesday jackpot win derailed a likely state record in weekly Powerball sales. That mark, $22.3 million, was set the week of Aug. 25, 2001, when tickets were $1 and the top prize was $295 million.

For that one big last week, then, the state banked nearly $4.5 million directly for property tax relief. It also taxed those 22 winners of $50,000 each at 7.65 percent, which added $84,150 into the state’s general fund.

For all of the weeks from Nov. 21, 2015, to Jan. 16, the state sold $54.4 million in Powerball tickets, which resulted in about $11.6 million in property tax relief. (The total tax credit for all lottery games for all of 2015 was $166.4 million.)

“The money from lottery sales is set aside for property tax relief and to pay the players their prizes,” said Department of Revenue spokeswoman Stephanie Marquis. “The income taxes that the players pay when they win goes into the general fund.”

Amid the Powerball frenzy came a Jan. 11 news release from the Department of Revenue with the headline, “Five Reasons to Play Wednesday’s Powerball Jackpot.” The list included whimsical illustrations of what $1.4 billion — the jackpot at the time — could buy, including a fish fry for everyone in Wisconsin for the next 22 Fridays.

But is that promotion? State law specifically prohibits any department from “engaging in promotional advertising of the state lottery.” Marquis said the release was not a promotion, but was in response to numerous media requests for perspective, and produced with approval of department lawyers. It also noted that the odds of winning the jackpot are 1 in 292.2 million.

“We don’t promote. We are careful with our information and advertising to follow state law,” she said. “In every single interview, I asked people to play responsibly and not spend more than they could afford.”

The Wisconsin Council on Problem Gambling, which in 2015 took 14,690 calls to its telephone help line, and is allotted $396,000 from lottery proceeds annually, reported that calls have not been tallied for January, but director Rose Gruber said they were probably up.

“We know that people do get addicted to the lottery, though not in huge numbers,” she said. “Most people can handle the social gambling aspect” of the large jackpot ticket.

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