Surging ticket sales have propelled tonight's jackpot by more than $225 million since last weekend. Winning ticket will be worth at least $550 million, lottery officials say.
Powerball fever is raising the size of tonight's jackpot again - to at least $550 million.
With less than 12 hours to go before drawing, the Multi-State Lottery Association added at least $50 million to the jackpot. It stood at $325 million Saturday and rose to $500 million Tuesday, with hopefuls snapping up $2 tickets at a rate of more than 100,000 a minute.
MUSL director Chuck Strutt says today's sales will "easily" push the $550 million jackpot higher. There have been 16 straight drawings since Oct. 6 without a jackpot winner, which has fueled ticket sales and exponential growth in the jackpot, second-biggest ever after February's $656 million MegaMillions award.
Buyers in 42 states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands have until about an hour before the drawing, scheduled for 10:59 ET. The winning ticket is worth about $360 million after federal taxes.
Few are immune to lottery fever. Even past multi-millionaire winners have the bug. Vietnamese immigrant Dung Tran - among eight Nebraska ConAgra employees who split a $365 million jackpot in February 2006, was buying in. He walked into the same Lincoln U-Stop he bought the winning ticket six years ago, purchasing 22 tickets for tonight's drawing from the same store clerk.
"We joked about it, says cashier Janice Mitzner. "I told him, Wouldn't it be something if you won again?"
At Imperial Liquors in Washington, D.C., the line for tickets stretched down the block when manager Surinder Singh opened the store Wednesday morning. By noon, Imperial had sold hundreds.
As they purchased tickets, Singh offered each a free banana or apple to celebrate a Sikh holiday commemorating the birth of Sikhism's founder, Guru Nanak Dev, perhaps a lucky omen. "It's an auspicious day," Singh said.
Singh's father called from India to remind him to buy. "I said if I win, I'll send a chartered plane,'' Surinder Singh said.
Ashley Fuller, a student at Jefferson Community and Technical College in Louisville, KY., reminded classmates to buy tickets – and not to forget her if one hits the jackpot.
Fuller, 25, knows the chances of winning are tiny - just 1 in 175 million - but wants an opportunity. "As long as I get one, I'm OK,'' she says. "I could be in those odds."
Faustino Becerril, 48, of Clarkston, MI, bought five tickets on the way to work. He owns a painting company and employs six. Even if he wins, he'll stay on the job. "I'd have a bigger painting company," said Becerril. "If you don't work, you don't feel good."
At New Orleans' Discount City convenience store on South Claiborne Ave., hopefuls were asking for tickets at 4 a.m., four hours before the store's Powerball machine is switched on, owner Rami Aj said. But a bigger crush of customers is expected later this evening, he said.
When the Mega Millions jackpot reached $656 million in February, lines snaked out the door, says Ajsaid, who is adding a worker just to man Powerball machine.
"Tonight will be really heavy," he said. "Everyone's talking about it."
Keoka Powell, 40, bought two tickets early. The school bus driver doesn't usually play, but felt compelled by the high stakes jackpot. If she wins, she'll take her three sons –ages 10 to 20 – on a Disney cruise and travel to Paris and Japan.
"It's a once-in-a-lifetime chance," Powell said.
At Airport News and Tobacco near New Castle, Del., rare lottery players were stepping in. "It's so absurd of a number, says UPS driver Jim Baker, 43. "People like me who nevery gamble say, 'Oh, I have to get a ticket.' "
Don Whitney, 77, of Carneys Point, N.J., bought five tickets.
"Half a billion dollars? Donald Trump, move over," Whitney said.