By Todd Northrop
Only once before has the United States — or the world — witnessed a lottery-buying frenzy like we are seeing this week.
That was in March, when the multi-state Mega Millions game was busy setting a record for the largest jackpot in world history.
This time it's Powerball's turn to make people stop what they're doing and line up for lottery tickets.
Powerball tickets are being bought at such a rapid pace that the Multi-State Lottery Association (MUSL), which operates the Powerball game, has raised the jackpot estimate an additional $75 million before the drawing takes place Wednesday night.
Who knows, it may even get raised again Wednesday before the drawing.
Early Sunday morning, just after midnight Eastern Time, USA Mega announced the new record Powerball jackpot of $425 million after nobody won in the Saturday evening drawing.
Now, just two days later, the jackpot estimate for Wednesday's Powerball drawing has been raised to $500 million, with a lump-sum cash option of $327.4 million.
That's an increase of $175 million from the Satuday jackpot of $325 million. And yet, the jackpot will probably be even higher by the time the drawing occurs at 10:59 pm Eastern Time (7:59 pm Pacific Time) tomorrow night.
Surely, tickets are being sold at such a rapid pace that the vast majority of all possible number combinations are being covered — multiple times for many combinations — but one still has to ask: what if just one person wins $327 million in cash? It's hard for most people to even picture a number that large, let alone manage that much cash.
Perhaps more interesting to imagine is, what if nobody wins Wednesday?
Lottery players seeking to check the winning numbers Wednesday night are urged to use USA Mega (www.usamega.com). State lottery Web sites are normally brought to a standstill during busy periods, while USA Mega normally remains responsive.
Powerball drawing results will be posted immediately after the 10:59 pm drawing at USA Mega. The number of winners and new jackpot will be announced after all participating Powerball states have reported their data, which normally occurs within a couple of hours after the drawing.
Tickets will remain on sale typically until 10:45 pm Eastern Time on Wednesday, although players should check with a lottery retailer in their state for the exact sales cutoff time. Players are advised not to wait until the last minute.
The odds of winning the jackpot are approximately 1 in 175 million. The odds of winning any of the Powerball prizes are approximately 1 in 32.
Lottery players can see an after-tax analysis of the current Powerball jackpot by visiting USA Mega's Jackpot Analysis page.
Powerball features nine different prize levels, ranging from $4 all the way up to the jackpot. Players can win even if they just match one number — the Powerball number.
States also offer the Power Play option for an extra dollar per ticket purchased. The Power Play multiplies any non-jackpot prizes won by a fixed amount, depending on the prize level won.
Players who purchase the Power Play and win second prize will automatically have their prize increased by 2x to $2 million.