The ginormous Powerball grand prize climbed to a cool $450 million Tuesday after 17 times without a winner.
Yes, that's $50 million more than the $400 million jackpot that Multi-State Lottery Association officials had anticipated when no one won a $334 million prize Saturday. And many people who are feeling lucky have been flocking to convenience stores across the USA to grab their 1-in-292 million chance as the clock ticked down to Wednesday's 10:59 p.m ET drawing.
At Max's Food and Fuel in Phoenix, about 600 Powerball tickets were sold in one day, with evenings generating the most eager customers, clerk Michael Eka said. People often have been buying 10 $2 tickets to improve their odds.
"I've been in here when two people have bought $500 worth of tickets," he said. "You never know what they'll get."
The new estimated jackpot, $275.4 million if the winner decides on a one-time payout rather than a 30-year annuity, would rank as the fourth largest in Powerball history — if someone lands the lucky numbers. Before the addition of 10 white balls to the pool of numbers in October, the chance of winning was a much more realistic 1 in 175 million.
No one has won the grand prize in Powerball's twice-a-week drawing since Nov. 7.
"It's surreal for people when they win," said Tony Bouie, executive director of the Arizona Lottery. Then "they see that it's real, and we see how their lives are transformed."
A Florida woman won the largest Powerball pot, $590.5 million with a cash value of $370.9 million, in May 2013. The second- and third-largest prizes, awarded in November 2012 and February 2015, were split among two and three people.
The largest U.S. lottery prize ever was for a Mega Millions game, a $656 million jackpot split among three winning tickets in March 2012. Back then, the odds of picking the correct numbers were more than 1 in 175 million.
"I don't ever miss. You don't ever change. You play consistent," said Charles Rush, owner of Carpet Discount Warehouse in Charlotte, N.C. "I almost got it twice."
In the past two years, Rush and nine other workers have played Powerball every week spending $12 each. Twice they hit it big: once with a $10,000 winner and in the summer with a cool $1 million check. After taxes, they each took home $70,000.
"You're going to play $12 a week. Just consider that gone and you can afford to do it," Rush said. "And don't worry about it until they hit. Don't sit and sweat it every damn week."
The players in Rush's pool each pick numbers significant to themselves and give them to Rush. He chooses the Powerball then carries the forms next door to a convenience store where he buys 10 weeks of tickets at a time.
"I play my parents' birthdays, my grandmother's birthday, and my mother's house address," said Michael Grier of Pensacola, Fla. "I just won on that one yesterday."
He buys $5 or $6 of lottery tickets a day — usually the twice-a-week Florida Lotto or twice-a-day Cash 3, both of which have better chances of winning. Wednesday, he'll play Powerball.
Grier, like many players, has a list of things he would do if he were to win: Give money to his church, pay for his nephew's upcoming wedding, pay off his sister's house, help his friends who are struggling.
Jonathon Knight of Port St. John, Fla., said he would start out practical but then make his dream come true.
“I would pay off my mortgage along with my family’s bills and then buy a big piece of land and have a massive car collection,” Knight said. The centerpiece of that car collection: “A 1971 tuxedo black Challenger 440 big block.”
The drawing for the $450 million jackpot will take place at Florida Lottery's studio in Tallahassee.
Jason Miko, a clerk at Express Gas in Phoenix, said he has noticed that regular customers are purchasing larger volumes of tickets. Some have been spending $100 for 50 Powerball tickets and more for scratch-off games.
"People need the money more these days," he said. "The retired people who come in, they want to retire again."
He claims he can "feel" when he sells a winning scratch-off ticket but said Powerball is different.
"If you win the Powerball, you'll win by mistake," he said. "It really depends on how lucky you are."