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Powerball jackpot climbs to $550M on ticket sales

Published: Wednesday, Nov. 28 2012 4:00 p.m. MST

Yvette Gavin, 51, sells dreams in the form of Powerball tickets at a BP gas station Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2012 in Calumet Park, Ill. Gavin who has worked as a cashier at the station says she play lotto every once in a while, but with tonight's 500 million dollar jackpot  she is defiantly playing today. She says a lot of customers say if they will they will take care of her, but she will have to wait to see.   (M. Spencer Green, Associated Press) Yvette Gavin, 51, sells dreams in the form of Powerball tickets at a BP gas station Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2012 in Calumet Park, Ill. Gavin who has worked as a cashier at the station says she play lotto every once in a while, but with tonight's 500 million dollar jackpot she is defiantly playing today. She says a lot of customers say if they will they will take care of her, but she will have to wait to see. (M. Spencer Green, Associated Press)

CHICAGO — As Americans went on a ticket-buying spree, the Powerball jackpot rose to $550 million Wednesday, enticing many people who rarely, if ever, play the lottery to purchase a shot at the second-largest payout in U.S. history.

Among them was Lamar Fallie, a jobless Chicago man who said his six tickets conjured a pleasant daydream: If he wins, he plans to take care of his church, make big donations to schools and then "retire from being unemployed."

Tickets were selling at a rate of 130,000 a minute nationwide — about six times the volume from a week ago. That meant the jackpot could climb even higher before the Wednesday night drawing, said Chuck Strutt, executive director of the Multi-State Lottery Association.

The jackpot has already rolled over 16 consecutive times without a winner, but Powerball officials say they now believe there is a 75 percent chance the winning combination will be drawn this time.

Convenience store clerk Woody Amlak inserts customer Javon Lee's Powerball numbers into a machine in Baltimore, Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2012. Lee, a manager of a local McDonald's restaurant who was playing Powerball for the first time, picked the numbers using a combination of family members' birthdays and addresses.  (Patrick Semansky, Associated Press) Convenience store clerk Woody Amlak inserts customer Javon Lee's Powerball numbers into a machine in Baltimore, Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2012. Lee, a manager of a local McDonald's restaurant who was playing Powerball for the first time, picked the numbers using a combination of family members' birthdays and addresses. (Patrick Semansky, Associated Press)

If one ticket hits the right numbers, chances are good that multiple ones will, according to some experts. That happened in the Mega Millions drawing in March, when three ticket buyers shared a $656 million jackpot, which remains the largest lottery payout of all time.

Yvette Gavin, who sold the tickets to Fallie, is only an occasional lottery player herself, but the huge jackpot means she'll definitely play this time. As for the promises she often gets from ticket purchasers, Gavin isn't holding her breath.

"A lot of customers say if they win they will take care of me, but I will have to wait and see," she said.

In the hours before Wednesday's drawing, Associated Press photographers across the nation sought out ticket buyers and asked about their lottery fantasies. Here's a look at what they found:

Norn Phneo sells Powerball tickets to Billy Fulginiti, of Philadelphia for himself and his coworkers, Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2012, in Philadelphia.  (Matt Rourke, Associated Press) Norn Phneo sells Powerball tickets to Billy Fulginiti, of Philadelphia for himself and his coworkers, Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2012, in Philadelphia. (Matt Rourke, Associated Press)

When Atlanta barber Andre Williams buys scratch-off tickets, he typically does a dance in his shop for good luck. As a first-time Powerball player, he plans to reprise the dance — and buy a few extra tickets to enhance his chances.

I don't even know if I'll look at it," said Williams, who bought his ticket at a newsstand. "If I win, I might pass out."

Paralegal Pat Powell was buying her first Powerball ticket at another store in Atlanta, even though she acknowledged her odds were probably "zero to zero."

Still, Powell has specific plans should she win: start an Internet cafe in the West Indies and a learning center in Georgia.

"I've been thinking about winning this money and what I'd do with it," Powell said. "There's no ritual, but it's just been on my mind. So it's like, let me just join the hype and just do it."

Benita Lewis, 41, of Atlanta, right, plays her family's birthdays in reverse as numbers on her Powerball lottery ticket as co-worker Perita Jones, 53, also, of Atlanta, looks on in the background at a convenience store, Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2012, in Atlanta. Benita Lewis, 41, of Atlanta, right, plays her family's birthdays in reverse as numbers on her Powerball lottery ticket as co-worker Perita Jones, 53, also, of Atlanta, looks on in the background at a convenience store, Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2012, in Atlanta. "I did feel nervous buying it like I could be the one," says Lewis. "I'm going to retire and pay off all my family's debt, immediate family, I got to that back, immediate family's debt." (David Goldman, Associated Press)

Atlanta accountant Benita Lewis, who had never played the lottery before, didn't want to be the only one left in her office without a ticket.

"I did feel nervous buying it like I could be the one," she said. "I'm going to retire and pay off all my family's debt."

In Philadelphia, seafood salesman Billy Fulginiti bought 50 Powerball tickets with co-workers and a few more with a small group. He said he only plays when the jackpot is especially large.

"You go to bed at night wishing you wake up a millionaire," Fulginiti said. He planned to take a long vacation and "help a lot of people, a lot of charities," if any of his tickets turn out to be winners.

Powerball purchases at the Canterbury Country Store in Canterbury, N.H., have been so steady that the manager has been working extra evening hours to keep up.

Norn Phneo, 62, who sells Powerball tickets at her newsstand, poses for a photograph Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2012, in Philadelphia.  (Matt Rourke, Associated Press) Norn Phneo, 62, who sells Powerball tickets at her newsstand, poses for a photograph Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2012, in Philadelphia. (Matt Rourke, Associated Press)

Horticulturist Kevin Brags buys tickets at the store two to three times a month. He says he usually picks numbers higher than 32 because so many people use numbers 31 and lower, largely because of birthdays.

The birthday theory didn't scare off Paul Kruzel, a retired doctor who chooses the days his children were born.

Both, however, have the same plans for winning: "make a lot of people happy."

John Olson has a more elaborate idea: He'd like to buy an island.

At a downtown Detroit convenience store, Ceejay Johnson purchased five Powerball tickets. If she strikes it rich, the analyst from Southfield, Mich., said she would buy a home for her sister in Florida. Then she would "go into hiding" and take care of her family.

"And the IRS," she added.

Associated Press photographer Jim Cole reported from Canterbury, N.H.

Associated Press photographers Paul Sancya in Detroit, David Goldman in Atlanta and Matt Rourke in Philadelphia, and AP writers David Pitt in Des Moines, Iowa, and Jeff McMurray in Chicago contributed to this report.

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