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'This has never happened before.' Powerball jackpot swells to $700 million

Describing the odds of winning Saturday's Powerball drawing as "slim" would be an understatement — but it would also be an understatement to call the jackpot "big."

For the 18th consecutive time, no one matched all six numbers to the Powerball lottery jackpot Wednesday night. As a result, the estimated prize for Saturday’s drawing has ballooned to an unprecedented $700 million. 

Just to put that jackpot in global perspective, it’s larger than the gross domestic product for nine of the world’s island nations, according to the World Bank: Comoros, Dominica, Tonga, São Tomé and Príncipe, Micronesia, Palau, Marshall Islands, Kiribati and Tuvalu.

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Wednesday’s jackpot was already more than half a billion dollars. With the prize climbing to a level never reached, lottery officials expect the public’s excitement to reach a fever pitch by Saturday.

“I don’t even know how to describe it. This has never happened before,” said California State Lottery spokesman Alex Traverso. “All I can imagine now is seeing how the next three days unfold. Our sales just started today.”

Powerball is played in 44 states and three U.S. territories. The jackpot minimum is $40 million because there are so many participants. On an average week in California, there’s maybe $6 million in sales divided between the Wednesday and Saturday drawings, Traverso said.

Leading up to Wednesday’s jackpot, the pace picked up.

On Tuesday, there were $7 million in sales. On Wednesday, it was $20 million, Traverso said.

“It’s pretty nuts,” he said.

A more apt comparison for what storeowners and hopeful customers might expect in the state this week would be the $656-million MegaMillions jackpot won in 2012, Traverso said. At the peak of that buying frenzy, sales were up to $10 million an hour, he said. The rush for Powerball tickets on Saturday could easily surpass that and push the jackpot higher, he said.

The odds of matching all six numbers are 1 in 292.2 million.

For breaking California news, follow @JosephSerna.

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