DES MOINES, Iowa — A little more than a year after three tickets split a world-record lottery prize, the jackpot for Saturday’s Powerball drawing was nearing historic territory once again.
Should nobody pick the correct six numbers, the prize money will roll over to next week’s drawing and almost certainly eclipse the $656 million doled out to winners in Illinois, Kansas and Maryland in the Mega Millions game in March 2012.
But the record could fall Saturday night, May 18, if a flurry of last-minute ticket purchases pushes the jackpot much above its current $600 million level. Since the previous drawing on Wednesday, it had grown by at least $236 million.
“If there was no chance, you wouldn’t do it,” said New Jersey attorney Rubin Sinins, who represented five construction workers who claimed a colleague cheated them out of a share of a multimillion-dollar lottery jackpot.
It seems simple enough: Just correctly pick five white balls out of a drum of 59 and one red one out of a drum of 35.
However, the odds of a single $2 ticket hitting the correct combination are about 1 in 175.2 million. That’s slightly less likely than randomly drawing the name of one specific female in the United States: 1 in 157 million, according to the last census.
With such an astronomic payoff available for the lucky ticket holder, some buyers are content to settle for just a share of the winnings.
In Houston, city firefighter John Paetow and a dozen of his colleagues kicked in $10 each for the drawing, as they do occasionally when a the stakes soar into the lottery stratosphere.
“With firemen it’s a camaraderie thing,” said Paetow, 59. “It just makes sense to pool our money; it buys more tickets, gives us a better chance of winning.”
Even if Saturday’s drawing doesn’t top last year’s Mega Millions jackpot, it’s already the highest in Powerball history, surpassing that game’s $587.5 million record set in November 2012.
A major reason for the sales surge is that last month, Powerball landed the nation’s most populous state as California joined 42 others that offer the game. California lottery director Robert O’Neill said the state had brought “sunshine and good fortune” to Powerball.
The Multi-State Lottery Association conducts the drawing live Saturday night from Tallahassee, Fla. The balls are weighed and X-rayed, and there are practice runs before the official televised version.