MIAMI Strong ticket sales have boosted the jackpot for Wednesday's Powerball lottery drawing to an estimated $425 million, the fourth-biggest jackpot in U.S. history.
As word of the big payout spread, vendors faced a crush of buyers lining up for tickets at the end of the workday.
Bob Goddard, a 56-year-old landscaper from Orlando, doesn't usually play Powerball, but the $425 million prize changed his mind, and he bought tickets in three different stores.
"Maybe the odds are better if you play in different places," he said.
Wendy Grabe, 53, a Winter Park, Florida, resident who works for a financial adviser, hadn't bought a lottery ticket in two years but stopped on her way home at a convenience store to try her luck.
"I played a little extra this time. I spent $30. I hope I win," Grabe said.
The jackpot is the third-largest for the Powerball game, said Shelly Gerteisen, a spokeswoman for the Florida Lottery, which is one of the participants.
The numbers will be drawn at 11 p.m. EDT, and the odds of winning the jackpot are about one in 175 million. The jackpot is valued at $425 million if awarded in 30 annual payments, or $245 million, if paid as a lump sum, the Multi-State Lottery Association said.
The largest jackpot in history stands at $656 million, won in the Mega Millions lottery of March 2012. That prize was split among winners in Maryland, Kansas and Illinois.
The biggest single-winner Powerball jackpot, $590.5 million, was claimed in June by an 84-year-old Florida woman who opted for a lump-sum payment of nearly $371 million rather than the 30-year option.
It's no coincidence that the Powerball jackpots have more frequently grown into the hundreds of millions of dollars this year. The Multistate Lottery Association doubled the cost of the lowest-priced ticket to $2 in January to boost payouts.
"The reasoning behind that was to have higher starting jackpots and more lower-tier winners as well," said Amy Bisceglia, another Florida Lottery spokeswoman.
Jackpots now start at $40 million with tickets sold in 43 states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Players must match six numbers to claim the top prize but can still win $1 million by matching five. The odds of doing that are about one in 5.15 million.
Drawings are held on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and this jackpot was rolled over 11 times without a top winner. The maximum number of rollovers since 2009, when Florida joined the Powerball game, was 15.
LottoGopher, an Internet sales company that buys tickets for California players who prefer not to stand in line, says any jackpot over $400 million triggers a buying frenzy.
"It used to be anything over $200 million," said LottoGopher Chief Executive James Morel. "People are expecting a lot more these days. $200 million is not enough."
He said current sales are running at about 80 percent of that seen last year with the record $656 million Mega Millions jackpot.
(Reporting by Jane Sutton; Editing by Gerald E. McCormick, Lisa Von Ahn, Cynthia Osterman and Steve Orlofsky)