It usually took a handful of months, if not several months, for a jackpot to reach this large amount.Now it's achieving that within a handful of weeks. I think the redesign is achieving exactly what we had wanted it to achieve, which is the bigger, faster-growing jackpot. —Mary Neubauer
DES MOINES, Iowa — The Powerball jackpot jumped to $550 million on Thursday — the third largest lottery in history — as dreamers in all but the seven states where the game isn't played snatched up tickets for the minuscule chance at a life on easy street.
Thursday's announcement by the Iowa-based Multi-State Lottery Association means ticket sales have soared since Wednesday night's drawing for an estimated $360 million jackpot, in which no one picked all six numbers correctly.
Sales jumped by $260 million in the days before November's biggest Powerball jackpot win in history — a prize of $587.5 million. And Iowa Lottery spokeswoman Mary Neubauer said it's possible that Saturday's could end up eclipsing that amount.
A $550 million jackpot would be the second largest in Powerball history and the third largest for any lottery.
Lottery officials expect jackpot totals of this size to continue to climb in shorter amounts of time, thanks in part to a game redesign in January 2012 that increased the odds of winning some kind of prize, but also lowered the possible number combinations to win the Powerball.
There's also "cross-selling" of Powerball and Mega Millions tickets — states being able to sell both Powerball tickets and Mega Millions tickets — that began in January 2010. As a result, large jackpots will continue to surpass all-time jackpot records set years ago, said Neubauer.
"It usually took a handful of months, if not several months, for a jackpot to reach this large amount," she said. "Now it's achieving that within a handful of weeks. I think the redesign is achieving exactly what we had wanted it to achieve, which is the bigger, faster-growing jackpot."
The redesign means players don't necessarily have to strike big to get lucky. A $1 increase and new $1 million and $2 million prizes means the odds of winning something have increased. On Wednesday, $1 million prizes were won in 16 states, and $2 million prizes were won in two states.
In fact, more than half of the all-time jackpot records have been reached in the last three years. The top two all-time jackpots — $656 million from a Mega Millions jackpot and $587.5 million from a Powerball jackpot — were achieved in 2012.
The last major jackpot win came when a New Jersey man won a $338.3 million jackpot on March 23. It is now considered the fourth largest Powerball jackpot in history.
Players aren't complaining about the large sums. Rachel Rand said she just couldn't help herself and bought several Powerball tickets.
"How can you not play $2?" said the 32-year-old insurance adjustor. "A $10 investment if you win is pretty good."Comment on this story
Insurance agent Joe Williams, of Middleton, Wis., doesn't necessarily spend more when the prize is high. But his $4 investment in the quick-pick option means he does spend.
"I know rationally it makes no sense," he said. "But at the same time, without a ticket, I have zero chance."
Tom Powers, 52, a janitor from Omaha, Neb., bought several tickets Tuesday from a convenience store. He said he would definitely walk away from work if he won the jackpot, but he's not sure how he would spend all the winnings.
"It's really unfathomable the amount of money this is putting out," Powers said.
Associated Press writers Kevin Wang in Madison, Wis., and Josh Funk in Omaha, Neb., contributed to this report.
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