U.S. Powerball jackpot hits $1 billion ahead of Halloween night drawing

ATLANTA, Oct 31 (Reuters) - Americans lined up at newstands and gas stations around the country on Monday to buy Powerball lottery tickets, dreaming of defying astronomically long odds to win a jackpot that has mushroomed to more than $1 billion.

At a Shell gas station in Atlanta, where a dozen or so people waited in line, the manager said he had been doing swift business with tickets all day. Since lunchtime people have flooded his shop. Traffic was almost nonstop.

It was a scene repeated at lottery agents from coast to coast as people clamored to get in on the action, hoping to win one of the richest prizes ever offered by a major U.S. lottery.

Cory Greene, 54, of Atlanta was among those who waited patiently on Monday. The semi-retired construction worker and former U.S. Army infantry soldier wasn't planning on buying a Powerball ticket until he saw all the commotion.

"I only stopped in for a snack. But everyone's talking about it, so I thought I'd give it a shot," he said.

When Greene was asked what he would do with the money, others in line shouted suggestions as he pondered a moment.

"I've got four kids, and college is expensive," Greene said. "I'm working three jobs to handle all that. I'd pay for all that and take care of the family."

Greene said he'd spend a lot of money helping small businesses in the African-American community. When asked if he wanted to buy something big for himself, he said "no".

"I'm done trying to keep up with the Joneses," Greene said. "I just want to be comfortable."

The current jackpot ranks as the second highest in the game's history behind a $1.585 billion top prize in 2016, which was divided among three lucky ticket holders from California, Tennessee and Florida.

If a single ticket holder has the series of numbers selected in the drawing on Monday, the winner can chose to receive either a one-time lump sum of $497.3 million in cash, or multimillion-dollar annuity payouts stretched over 29 years, according to lottery officials.

The top prize, which will rise even higher if no one holds the lucky numbers on Monday, is also the fifth-largest jackpot for all major lotteries in the United States.

The drawing takes place just before 11 p.m. EST. Tickets cost $2.

Winners must guess all six lucky numbers including the final "Powerball. The odds of winning the jackpot are 1 in 292.2 million, lottery officials said.

The last time that someone won the Powerball jackpot was on Aug. 3, when a ticket holder from Pennsylvania claimed a $206 million prize. Since then, 37 drawings in a row have produced no grand prize winner.

Reporting by Rich McKay; Editing by Sandra Maler

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.