Winning million$ in one of the big jackpots is winning the lottery for governments, too

It's fairly well-known that the jackpot for a winning multi-million dollar lottery ticket isn't necessarily what it says on the billboards the state lottery system updates regularly, like the one on Business Route 1 at the Bel Air Bypass split.

Still, it seemed a bit shocking when the Abingdon couple that won the Sept. 7 Powerball drawing received their winnings on what was touted as a $107 million jackpot (later recalculated to be a $108.8 million jackpot) ended up getting a check for $43.4 million.

The explanation of where the other $63 million went is predictable enough. The couple chose a lump sum rather than payments over a span of 30 years, which reduced the total winnings to about $65 million. Fair enough.

That brings the total discrepancy down to about $23 million, and this, predictably, went to pay income taxes, which are collected by the federal, state and county governments.

Harford County stands, at least according to lottery officials, to take in about $1.9 million, which isn't bad considering the county didn't even buy a ticket. The feds, who also didn't buy a ticket, take in a cool $16.3 million, but this is to be expected.

Indeed, most of us who play the lottery are at least casually familiar with the payout and tax math as it applies to lottery winnings. Many lottery winning fantasies even make mental accounting for such things. Indeed, the haul of $43 million won by the Abingdon couple (who under Maryland law are allowed to remain anonymous) is very much the stuff of fantasy, even if it is less than half of the $107 million that had been posted.

The thing that seems a little on the strange side, though, is that the Maryland state government's cut is nearly $5.8 million. Like the county and federal governments, the state government didn't buy a lottery ticket, but that's not what makes its income tax haul on the winnings odd. It's that the state government sold the winning lottery ticket, and the losing lottery tickets. If no one had won anything, the state still gets its take, and when someone does win, the state gets a share of that, too.

Of course, this is just the way it is in legalized gambling: no matter who's running the table, the house always wins.

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