LITTLE ROCK Powerball tickets are in high demand at some local retailers on the day of a drawing that could reward one lucky player with more than a half billion dollars.
The $550 million annuity jackpot, or $360.2 million lump-sum cash value before taxes, could be awarded in the drawing set for 10 p.m. To win that top, life-changing prize, a player must brave odds of 1 in more than 175 million by matching all five randomly selected white balls and the Powerball.
The astronomical odds didn't deter players Wednesday morning at the Sufficient Grounds store in Little Rock, where a steady stream of jackpot hopefuls bought tickets for $2 apiece. The jackpot was only $500 million then; it swelled late Wednesday morning thanks to the surge of ticket buyers across the country.
Among those playing locally was Charles Bright, a 44-year-old Office of Child Support worker who said he wanted to "see if my luck would change."
Bright said he isn't sure what he'd do if his numbers match the winning ones, joking he hopes he'd survive the good news.
"Hopefully my pacemaker would kick in and keep me from having a heart attack," he said. "It'd be unbelievable. I couldn't imagine it."
Calvin Carter, a 49-year-old construction worker, bought a few tickets at the convenience store in downtown Little Rock. He had the computer pick random numbers for some of the tickets but filled out one with the winning numbers from the previous drawing.
"It's just like another number," he said of his strategy on the latter. "It might come back, you never know. It's a long shot, but getting [any] number is a long shot too."
Carter said he'd probably "build a church, give to charity and stop working."
"That's the only thing I'd be doing," he said with a laugh.
In addition to providing whoever wins with unfathomable riches, the uptick in ticket buying will also translate into more funds for scholarship money in Arkansas, lottery officials said.
Arkansas Lottery Director Bishop Woosley said in a statement that 40 percent of revenue from Powerball (and similar draw game Mega Millions) goes to scholarships. At least $3 million has been raised since Oct. 4 when the as-yet-unwon jackpot started.
"The higher the jackpot, the more tickets we sell, and the faster the scholarship dollars pile up," Woosley said.
Julie Baldridge, director of public affairs and legislative relations for the lottery, said the intense interest in the record jackpot will likely swell it even further by the time the numbers are drawn Wednesday night. And if no tickets across the country match all six numbers, the record may be smashed.
"If it isn't hit tonight, it will creep upward to the largest jackpot in American history," Baldridge said. "... I believe it will come close to a billion dollar jackpot. That's just an educated guess."
Baldridge said the lottery roots first for an Arkansas player to win and, barring that, for no one to win. In the case of the latter, another round of heightened ticket buying would likely occur leading up to the next drawing, providing more funds for scholarships along the way.
Kim Tinner, who works at the Sufficient Grounds store and wore a large button reminding customers of the huge jackpot, said the big prizes usually result in a significant increase in ticket sales. When the Mega Millions jackpot eclipsed $600 million in February, the store sold about $6,000 in tickets on the day of the drawing.
"You'll find a lot of your offices will begin pooling and buying a massive amount of tickets at once," Tinner said. "Once it gets up there, they can't help themselves. It's a frenzy."