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Powerball fever hits area residents
Piggly Wiggly cashier Betty Monahan sells Annie Figi 10 Powerball tickets Friday afternoon. The Powerball jackpot was worth $700 million at the time of Figi's purchase and has grown to $800 million. Figi, who works at Brennan's Market, bought the tickets as part of a pool with some of her co-workers. (Times photo: Marissa Weiher)

Jackpot surges to $800 million

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - With Powerball sales breaking previous records, the odds are growing that someone will win Saturday night's $800 million jackpot - but if no one matches all the numbers, the next drawing is expected to soar past $1 billion.

For this weekend's record drawing, about 65 percent of the possible number combinations will have been bought, officials with the Multi-State Lottery Association, which runs the Powerball game, said Friday. That percentage could rise if the jackpot estimate is increased - but even lottery officials say they don't know what to expect.

"You can throw out the logic. You can throw out the statistics," said Gary Grief, executive director of the Texas Lottery. "We've never seen jackpots like this. It's a new experience for all of us."

Since Nov. 4, the Powerball jackpot has grown from its $40 million starting point as no one has won the jackpot. Grief is more certain what will happen if no one matches the numbers on five white balls and the one red Powerball this time.

"It will definitely go past $1 billion if we roll past this Saturday," he said.

This kind of huge jackpot was just what lottery officials hoped for last fall when they changed the odds of matching all the Powerball numbers, from about one in 175 million to one in 292.2 million. By making it harder to win a jackpot, the tougher odds made the ever-larger prizes inevitable.

The bigger prizes draw more players, who in turn make the jackpots even bigger.

So many people were buying Powerball tickets in Iowa that lottery spokeswoman Mary Neubauer said some stores were running out of paper for tickets, leaving lottery workers scrambling to resupply the outlets.

The odds are a matter of statistics and probability, but they're facts that most players may not completely understand, said Ron Wasserstein, executive director of the Alexandria, Virginia-based American Statistical Association.

"Once you get numbers that size, it's hard for people to wrap their minds around them," Wasserstein said.

It's not like players ever had a great shot at winning a jackpot, but by lengthening the odds, he said, "you take odds that were really, really small before, and now they're nearly twice as small as they were before."

Players in Lincoln, Nebraska, said they don't expect to win, but most noted that eventually, someone will take home all that money.

Gary Diaz of Lincoln said he's bought one or two Powerball tickets every week since a group of his co-workers won a lottery jackpot in 2004.

"Ever since then, I go, hell, if it happened once, it's gotta happen again," Diaz said. "It's all by chance."

Bashir Rahman, a chef from Moscow, Idaho, who was traveling through Nebraska, said he decided to buy a couple tickets at a Casey's gas station in Lincoln, but he realizes it's a long, long shot.

"You buy more than two, you're just stupid," he said.

Wasserstein said he understands why so many people buy Powerball tickets, calling it a small price for a chance to dream of immense riches. But Wasserstein said he and his colleagues know too well the nearly impossible odds to plunk down even $2 for a ticket.

"I can assure you," he said, "there is no office pool for the lottery at the American Statistical Association."

MONROE - People throughout Monroe lined up this week for a very small - miniscule, really - chance to win a record-breaking Powerball jackpot tonight.

The jackpot, estimated to reach over $800 million by the time the winning number is drawn, is the highest lottery jackpot ever offered in North America.

The odds of winning, however, are only 1 in 292,201,338.

That hasn't stopped people from buying more Powerball tickets. Piggly Wiggly clerk Betty Monahan estimated at least 20 people per hour were purchasing tickets on Friday, significantly more than usual.

One of those would-be millionaires was retiree Bob Beverley, who purchases lottery tickets "pretty much every day.

"I think I'd give some of the money to the Humane Society," Beverley said of his plans if he hit the jackpot. "And then give some to some people here in town. With that much money, what do you do with it?"

Beverley said he usually chooses his own Powerball numbers, but decided to let the computer select his numbers randomly on Tuesday, which some believe offers slightly better odds of winning.

Other people use different strategies to even the odds. Brennan's employee Annie Figi pooled money with four coworkers to buy 10 tickets on Friday.

Figi said she had won smaller prizes in the Wisconsin Lottery's Holly Jolly Raffle in previous years by pooling resources with coworkers.

Others choose more obvious, but more expensive, ways to boost their odds. Scott Klarer, a cashier at the Monroe Beverage Mart, said some people have spent more than $60 on tickets this week.

Should Figi's group win, they will split the winnings evenly five ways. This would award each member a $160 million payoff, minus several million for taxes.

However, while this strategy may improve the chances of winning a small prize, the jackpot is nearly statistically impossible to win.

According to the 2010 United States Census, there were 10,827 residents of Monroe. If 10,000 Monroe citizens each pooled $50 into a Powerball fund, the odds

of one of their tickets winning the jackpot would increase by approximately .00000000002 percent.

On the other hand, if divided 10,000 ways, each participating citizen would receive $80,000 before taxes.