Record Powerball jackpot pushes past $900 million as drawing looms

The Powerball jackpot has topped $1.3 billion.

With a record-breaking $900-million jackpot at stake, lottery players continued to line up Saturday to buy Powerball tickets.

So far, more than $1 billion in tickets have been sold nationwide, lottery officials said.

The pot has been rising since November and shot into record territory after there was no winner Wednesday night for the 18th consecutive draw. The previous record jackpot was a $656-million prize split among three Mega Millions winners in 2012.

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So how have sales been in California?

“Sales are going crazy right now,” said California State Lottery spokesman Russ Lopez. “We’re not surprised. Any time the jackpot gets to this point, Californians especially get very excited about it.”

On Tuesday, there were about $6 million in ticket sales in California, Lopez said. On Wednesday, $20 million. On Thursday, $13 million. As of Friday afternoon, it was at $17 million and growing.

Yet even with brisk sales, just 64% of all possible six-digit combinations have been selected, officials said.


What happens if no one wins tonight?

If no one wins Saturday, the prize will probably exceed $1 billion. The game is played in 44 states and three U.S. territories.

To win, a participant must match five numbers between 1 and 69 and a sixth number between 1 and 26 drawn separately. The odds of this happening are 1 in 292.2 million. If someone did hit the right combination for the $900-million jackpot, they would have the option of taking a lump sum payment of $558 million before taxes.

What are the real odds?

Many underestimate just how small the probability of winning is because 292.2 million is so large that it’s “almost impossible” for people to wrap their heads around, said Ron Wasserstein, executive director of the American Statistical Assn.

Lottery officials probably expected bigger jackpots and, in turn, bigger sales when they implemented new game rules last year that changed the odds from 1 in 175 million, he said.

“The larger the jackpot, the more people play,” Wasserstein said. “When the jackpot gets bigger, your chances of winning stays the same, but the chances that somebody wins increases. That is because the more people who play, the more likely it is that one of those people will match the winning numbers.”

Is this Powerball frenzy healthy?


Some critics say big lottery games encourage people with little money to gamble even though the odds are small. A much-cited Duke University study found that low-income households spend more of their income on lottery games than higher-income households.

Lottery officials are quick to note that for each $2 Powerball ticket purchased in California, about 80 cents goes toward education funding.


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