DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Sales of Powerball tickets soared in advance of Wednesday night's $500 million Powerball drawing, the fifth largest lottery prize in U.S. history.
People lined up for tickets around the country in hopes they could beat the odds and win the giant prize.
In Lincoln, Nebraska, hundreds of people crowded a grocery store that gave out free tickets during a promotion organized by the Nebraska Lottery.
Truck driver Ron Schuster, of Martell, Nebraska, knows what he'd do with the money.
"Pay off all the bills, naturally, buy my wife a new car, put the rest in the bank, and sit around and play video games," he said.
Tawsha Anderson, a nurse in Lincoln, also had some plans mapped out.
"First thing I'd have to do is tithe to church, then I think we'd probably move. Buy some land. Pay off our parents' homes. Put some money away for the kids, their college education," Anderson said.
It has been nearly two years since a Powerball jackpot has grown as large as Wednesday's estimated $500 million prize. That time, it was a $590.5 million jackpot won in May 2013 in Florida, a prize that ranked third on the all-time list.
The largest payout was to three ticketholders in the Mega Millions game, the other national lottery drawing. That was a $656 million prize won in March 2012 by players in Kansas, Illinois and Maryland.
If it seems there are more big jackpots than in the past, that's because there are.
In 2012, state officials who run Powerball and Mega Millions changed ticket prices and lowered the odds of winning jackpots in hopes the moves would increase the number of huge prizes and draw more players.
The new rules worked, causing jackpots to repeatedly climb to record levels. More than half of the top 10 U.S. jackpots have been reached in the past couple of years.
YEAR WITHOUT A HUGE PRIZE
Although prizes grew larger, there has been something of a jackpot drought, as it's been nearly a year since a Powerball prize reached the giant number people have come to expect. That was in February 2014 when someone won $425.3 million. A Mega Millions jackpot reached $326 million in November, but that was the first huge prize since the game rose to $414 million in March 2014.
Lottery officials say it all evens out in the long run, but the lack of a huge prize caused a drop in ticket sales. That ultimately means less money for state government programs financed by the lotteries.
In the six months from July to the end of December 2014, Powerball had more than $1.6 billion in ticket sales. That compares to sales of $2.7 billion during the same period in 2013.
The estimated lottery jackpot refers to the money a winner could get by opting for an annuity, under which the lottery would make payments 30 times over 29 years. If there is one winning ticket for the current $500 million prize, the lucky person could opt for $337.8 million in cash, which accounts for state and federal income taxes.
Lottery officials want people to play Powerball and other games, but they're quick to point out it's all in good fun.
The odds of winning the Powerball jackpot are 1 in 175 million, so a ticket will give players a chance to dream of immense riches, but that fantasy almost certainly won't become a reality.
But as Idaho lottery director Jeff Anderson notes: The odds can get even worse.
"If you don't have a ticket, your chances of winning are zero," said Anderson, who heads the Multi-State Lottery Association's Powerball game group.
Associated Press writer Anna Gronewold contributed to this report from Lincoln, Neb.