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.