The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

Local News

May 16, 2013

Lotto fever hits as Powerball grows

ARDMORE — When the Powerball jackpot jumped to $550 million Thursday, the news had people across all 50 states dreaming of better days.

The question of the day — What would you do with the winnings?

Don Baker of Athens knows exactly what he would do with the “golden” ticket. “I would fall out,” he said with a smile as he purchased a ticket at True Discount Lotto Land Thursday afternoon on Main Street in Ardmore. “Then, I would go get in the hoopty and try to make it home.” His next big endeavor — purchase a new car.

The Multi-State Lottery Association, which operates the game for 45 lotteries including Louisiana’s, said Thursday the jackpot climbed to $550 million thanks to a nationwide surge in sales. Before the increase, the advertised jackpot was $475 million. The cash value of the May 18 jackpot is $350.1 million.

A $550 million jackpot would be the second largest in Powerball history and the third largest for any lottery and it’s still growing.

A message early Thursday on the multistate lottery’s website said the jackpot soared after none of the tickets sold matched all the winning numbers in Wednesday night's drawing: 2, 11, 26, 34, 41 and a Powerball of 32.

The next drawing will be held Saturday.

Lottery officials expect jackpot totals of this size to continue to climb in shorter amounts of time, thanks in part to a game redesign in January 2012 that increased the odds of winning some kind of prize, but also lowered the possible number combinations to win the Powerball.

There’s also “cross-selling” of Powerball and Mega Millions tickets — states being able to sell both Powerball tickets and Mega Millions tickets — that began in January 2010. As a result, large jackpots will continue to surpass all-time jackpot records set years ago, said Mary Neubauer, spokeswoman for the Iowa Lottery. Iowa is one of the founding Powerball states.

“It usually took a handful of months, if not several months, for a jackpot to reach this large amount,” she said. “Now it’s achieving that within a handful of weeks. I think the redesign is achieving exactly what we had wanted it to achieve, which is the bigger, faster-growing jackpot.”

The redesign means players don’t necessarily have to strike big to get lucky. A $1 increase and new $1 million and $2 million prizes means the odds of winning something have increased. Just last Saturday, there was no Powerball jackpot winner, but more than a dozen tickets won $1 million prizes in 10 states.

In fact, more than half of the all-time jackpot records have been reached in the last three years. The top two all-time jackpots — $656 million from a Mega Millions jackpot and $587.5 million from a Powerball jackpot — were achieved in 2012.

The last major jackpot win came when a New Jersey man won a $338.3 million on March 23. It is now considered the fourth largest Powerball jackpot in history.

Players aren’t complaining about the large sums. That just gets them thinking.

“You would have to take me to the hospital because I would have had a heart attack,” said Richard Meikus of Hartselle.

His wife, Nancy Meikus, said she knows exactly what she would do — “Pay off my son’s student loans,” she said.

— Associated Press contributed to this report.

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