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Powerball dreamers include Miami Heat’s LeBron and Haslem

LeBron James signed a $17 million-a-year contract to play basketball for the Miami Heat — but he’s still searching for that big score.

The Miami Heat superstar, just like the person who bags your groceries or collects your trash, is checking the Powerball numbers Thursday morning to find out whether he won Wednesday night’s $579.9 million jackpot.

LeBron plays Powerball? Really?

He did this week.

“Damn right,” James said Wednesday, a few hours before the ticket-selling frenzy reached its 10 p.m. climax. So, evidently, did teammate Udonis Haslem, who rakes in $3.7 million a year. Chris Bosh, who like LeBron will earn $110.1 million over the six years of his contract, was staying on the sidelines.

“But my wife, on the other hand . . .” he said.

Eager to land the half-billion-dollar-plus windfall, Floridians (athletes included) scarfed up more than 17,000 Powerball tickets a minute on Wednesday, according to Florida Lottery officials.

The jackpot, advertised at $550 million and then upped late Wednesday to $579.9 million thanks to the surge of ticket sales, was the largest ever for the multi-state Powerball game, and the second-largest in the history of U.S. lotteries.

Government-run lotteries are often criticized as a regressive tax on poor people, and for good reason. A report in the Journal of Behavioral Decision Making found that for every dollar spent, players get back 47 cents in winnings. The report cites one study that found households making $10,000 or less spend, on average, 3 percent of their income on lottery tickets.

So why play if you can’t afford it? The study posits one theory: People with modest means appreciate the lottery because they have exactly the same chance of winning as a rich person, while in so many other endeavors the deck is stacked against them.

It’s the great equalizer.

So why did many well-to-do folks — King James included — pay to play?

The size of the prize.

David G. Schwartz, director of the Center for Gaming Research at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, describes what sounds like a classic snowball effect. Multiple rollovers lead to bigger jackpots, which bring longer lines, which fatten the prize still further, fueling the frenzy until people who almost never buy lottery tickets can’t resist joining the herd.

And yes, rich people do win the lottery sometimes.

Take former New Hampshire Sen. Judd Gregg. In 2005, he reeled in a $853,000 Powerball prize to go with the $9 million in assets already listed on his financial disclosure forms.

“It’s the allure,” said Joan DiFuria, a psychotherapist who counsels the megarich, “. . . the allure of being the big winner.”

Of course, unless you bought a fistful of tickets, chances are 175 million-to-1 that you didn’t pick the right numbers,. which were 5, 16, 22, 23, 29 and the Powerball, 6. Winning tickets were sold in Arizona and Missouri.

That makes you, officially, a loser

You too, LeBron.