By Todd Northrop
Just 12 hours after the initial Powerball jackpot estimate of $475 million was set, lottery officials announced that strong sales have pushed the official estimate for Saturday's drawing to $550 million.
The current jackpot is the second largest in Powerball history and the third largest jackpot in U.S. history.
The new estimated lump-sum cash value of the jackpot is $350.1 million.
Judging from past jackpot run-ups, it is almost certain that the jackpot will be raised again before the Saturday drawing.
Early Thursday morning, around 12:30 am Eastern Time, USA Mega announced the new record Powerball jackpot of $475 million after nobody won in the Wednesday evening drawing.
Now, just 12 hours later, the jackpot estimate for Saturday's Powerball drawing has been raised to $550 million, with a lump-sum cash option of $350.1 million.
That's an increase of $186.1 million from the Wednesday jackpot of $363.9 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) Saturday 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 $350 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 Saturday?
Lottery players seeking to check the winning numbers Saturday 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 Saturday, 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.