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Powerball proves to be a powerful business lure

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - The Powerball jackpot grew to a half-billion dollars Tuesday and could get bigger as sales surge ahead of tonight's drawing.

Citing strong ticket sales, Powerball officials raised the game's jackpot from $425 million to $500 million Tuesday morning.

The jackpot is the largest in Powerball's 20-year history and the second-highest jackpot ever recorded in an online lottery.

The potential winner - who faces odds of 1 in 175 million of picking the right string of numbers - gets to choose between a $500 million annuity or a one-time cash payout of $327 million.

West Virginia Lottery officials said sales ahead of Saturday's drawing topped $1 million, with more expected ahead of tonight's.

"We are already at $500,000 (in sales) for this draw," Lottery marketing director Nikki Orcutt said Tuesday morning. "Obviously with the jackpot being $500 million now, we're going to anticipate a very good sales week."

Lottery retailers have had plenty of experience dealing with high jackpots this year.

The Lottery logged weekly MegaMillions sales of more than $3 million when that game's jackpot hit $656 million in March. That jackpot still stands as the highest lottery jackpot in world history.

But that record is almost guaranteed to fall this week should no one hit the jackpot tonight.  

Since Powerball tickets cost $2, and MegaMillions tickets cost only $1, Powerball jackpots can grow much faster and in greater increments.

"If no one wins and this jackpot rolls, then we could see Powerball leading the charge on jackpots in the world, so we're excited," Orcutt said.

Orcutt said officials at the Multi-State Lottery Association, which runs the Powerball game, have yet to forecast what the Powerball jackpot could rise to if no one wins tonight.

Forty-two states, Washington and the U.S. Virgin Islands participate in the game.

Regardless of whether someone wins the jackpot tonight, West Virginia still stands to score a win.

"When you get to record jackpot levels like we have now, then our sales weeks end up being more than $1 million - which is tremendous for the Lottery and the state of West Virginia," Orcutt said.

"If this jackpot rolls, the revenue it brings for the areas we support - seniors, education and tourism - is tremendous," she said. "It's very difficult for us to maintain these type of sales unless we do have the large jackpots where people can't help but take the chance to buy a ticket."

Retailers stand to benefit as well.

Orcutt said the high jackpots drive traffic to convenience stores and other locations that sell online lottery games.

"Most people just stay at the pump and pump their gas, but when you see a jackpot amount that large, you typically take that chance of going in to play," she said.

As consumers go inside stores to buy a lottery ticket, they sometimes decide to buy other items.

"We're very happy that this will drive additional business for our retail locations," Orcutt said.

While it is hard to maintain the record pace of sales, Orcutt said the higher jackpots do have positive effects.  

She said both multi-state games reflected sales increases between July and October.

"Both Powerball and MegaMillions are up 10 percent and 16 percent respectively from last fiscal year, so the large jackpots do make a difference," she said.

West Virginia has had eight Powerball jackpot winners since the game was introduced in 1992. The most notable was Scott Depot resident Jack Whittaker, who won a $315 million prize in December 2002.

Whittaker used to lay claim to the title of largest jackpot won by one person, but he lost that distinction in August when Michigan resident Donald Lawson won a $337 million Powerball jackpot.

West Virginia officials hope the state can reclaim the record this week.

"We seem to be very lucky to this game, and we're looking forward to the next big jackpot winner here in West Virginia," Orcutt said.

Contact writer Jared Hunt at jared.hunt@dailymail.com or 304-348-5148. 


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