By David Beasley
ATLANTA (Reuters) - Buzz is building around the largest lottery jackpot in world history -- now up to $640 million -- ahead of the Mega Millions drawing taking place in Atlanta late Friday night.
Buyers have lined up this week in 42 U.S. states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands to purchase $1 tickets for the Mega Millions lottery.
In most participating states, tickets will be on sale Friday until 10:45 p.m. EST, lottery officials said. The drawing will be held in Atlanta at 11 p.m. EST.
Odds of winning the entire jackpot are 175 million to one, said Margaret DeFrancisco, president and chief executive of the Georgia Lottery Corporation.
If a single ticket matches all six winning numbers, the player would receive either a one-time payment of $462 million or the full jackpot in 26 annual installment payments.
If there are multiple winning tickets, the winnings will be split equally among the lucky customers.
"There is a tremendous amount of buzz and excitement," DeFrancisco said on Friday.
The previous largest Mega Millions jackpot was $390 million in 2007, which was split between two ticket holders in Georgia and New Jersey.
It will be early Saturday morning before lottery officials verify whether there are any winning tickets, according to the Mega Millions website.
About half the lottery money goes back to ticket holders in the form of winnings, 35 percent to state governments and 15 percent to retailer commissions and lottery operating expenses.
If no one wins on Friday night, the jackpot will grow to $975 million. Lottery officials are considering moving the next drawing after Friday to Times Square in New York City as the anticipation and jackpot build, DeFrancisco said.
The mood was light among a dozen people lined up to buy tickets at a Shell convenience store in Westminster, Colorado, a Denver suburb, as people chatted about the huge jackpot.
"I'm going to pay off my law school loans," said one woman. Another woman said she drove to Colorado from her home in Wyoming to buy tickets because the Mega Millions game isn't available there.
LONG LINES, HIGH HOPES
Outside the store, Arlene Heisick said she buys Mega Millions tickets for her husband and his fellow office workers for a pool.
"If we win, I'll pay off everything for my family, then I want to help out the schools because they need it," she said.
Amber Tate-Bird, who buys Mega Millions tickets about once a month, laughed when asked what she would do with the windfall should she win.
"I'm going to pay off all my bills, set up a college fund for my sons, and after that, who knows?" she said.
Tim Schnabel, a marriage and family therapist in Monroe, Georgia, said he had bought 25 Mega Millions tickets and planned to establish a foundation to help improve parenting skills if he were to win.
"When it gets to astronomical sums that we're looking at now, not only would it change my life, but it will change the lives of everyone around me," Schnabel said.
In Oregon, 38-year-old software consultant Mark Hacking said he had just returned from a business trip to Massachusetts, where he bought three tickets.
"They have a lot of winners there," Hacking said. He was picking up another two at the Portland 7-11. If he wins, "I'd never work another day in my life. And then I'd donate the rest to the Humane Society and other animal causes."
In Idaho, a line of ticket buyers began forming Thursday outside the Corner Store, a neighborhood grocery and lottery vendor in the remote mountain town of Salmon. Monique White, store assistant, said lottery ticket purchases in recent days had made up 50 percent of gross sales, up from a daily average of 10 percent. "The thing that's shocked us is these people are playing $30, $60 and $100 at a time," White said on Friday. "We're printing up hundreds of tickets a day." Bebe Dodds, an escrow officer at a local title company, took advantage of a lull in the line on Friday to buy dozens of Mega Millions tickets in hopes of funding a new school complex to replace the community's aging elementary and middle schools. "I'd also like to get Salmon a community auditorium or theater for arts performances. I'd spend local," she said.
(Additional reporting by Teresa Carson in Portland, Keith Coffman in Denver and Laura Zuckerman in Idaho; Editing By Colleen Jenkins, Dan Whitcomb, Paul Thomasch and Cynthia Johnston)