(Reuters) - Want to quit that depressing job? Buy a bigger house? Or how about a whole tropical island of your own? Maybe start a foundation?
Dreams of vast riches from a record Powerball lottery jackpot of more than half-a-billion dollars prompted a frenzy of ticket-buying across the United States ahead of Wednesday’s draw, and continued heavy sales were nudging the payout even higher.
Powerball has not had a winner for two months, and the pot has already grown by about $225 million following brisk ticket sales after no one won the top prize in Saturday’s drawing. By early afternoon on Wednesday, the jackpot stood at $550 million.
The drawing takes place at 10:59 p.m. ET/0315 GMT, and ticket sales cease from one to two hours earlier, depending on the state.
In a western suburb of Chicago, Illinois, Joe Cooke, 29, fantasized that if he won he could quit his job fielding customer service calls for a financial institution, which he described as listening to “rich, mean people” complain all day.
And how exactly would he quit?
“I was thinking, maybe I should hire a marching band to help me,” he said after buying $50 worth of Powerball tickets Wednesday morning. “Or maybe I’ll just walk right into office and moon him.”
The draw on Wednesday night would dish out more than $360.2 million if paid as a lump sum. Alternatively, the total of $550 million can be paid out in an annuity over three decades.
In the Idaho mountain town of Salmon, lottery vendors reported record numbers of people lining up on the last day to buy tickets.
“We sold 800 tickets yesterday and we’re expecting even more today. People are really excited,’ said Laurie Barrett, clerk at the Salmon Chevron.
Retired construction worker Bob Powell said it was his first time to play Powerball.
“I never buy tickets. My money comes too hard,” he said.
Asked why he made an exception, Powell joked, “A deep voice came to me in my sleep last night. It said, ‘Buy a lottery ticket.’”
“But I didn’t buy a ticket,” Powell said. “I bought the ticket.”
Powerball is sold in 42 states, Washington, D.C., and the U.S. Virgin Islands. There have been nearly 300 jackpot winners over the past 20 years, taking home payouts of over $11.6 billion.
The previous Powerball top prize of $365 million was won in 2006 by ConAgra slaughterhouse workers in Nebraska. The largest-ever U.S. lottery jackpot, the $656 million Mega Millions drawing, was shared by three winning tickets last March.
Among dreamers lining up at an Arizona grocery store in Tucson for a shot at Wednesday’s prize was metal shop worker Errol Simmons, 54, entrusted with a list of lucky numbers by a dozen or so co-workers.
“I’ve got to get this right,” he said as he checked through the list. “I don’t want to be the guy who lost us half a billion dollars because I couldn’t count.
“If we win, I’ll buy a new truck,” he said. “For each day of the week.”
The chances of winning the jackpot are about one in 175 million, compared to about one in 280,000 for being struck by lightning.
Mary Neubauer, a spokeswoman for the Iowa Lottery, where Powerball is based, said lottery officials had received calls and emails from people around the world asking if they can buy a ticket. They cannot.
“Sales across the country are just through the roof. It means lots of people are having fun with this, but it makes it difficult to keep up with the (jackpot) estimate,” she said.
At a convenience store in Philadelphia, store supervisor Usman Malik said some people were spending $100 at a time on Wednesday to scoop up tickets. “It’s like a frenzy,” he said. “Everybody thinks they are going to win.”
Reporting by Laura Zuckerman in Idaho, Teresa Carson in Oregon,; Keith Coffman in Colorado,; Paul Ingram in Tucson, Jonathan Kaminsky in Washington state, Dave Warner in Philadelphia and Nick Carey in Illinois; Writing by Peter Rudegeair and Tim Gaynor; Editing by Paul Thomasch, David Storey and Jackie Frank