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Powerball fever spikes as jackpot rises to $500 million

Although the odds are merely one in 175 million, it hasn't stopped people from spending $2 a ticket to take their chances on what has become the largest jackpot in Powerball history. NBC's John Yang reports.

NEW YORK -- The steady stream of commuters, transit workers, and veteran gamblers who stopped by a Grand Central Terminal kiosk Tuesday had one thought in common: To win the estimated $500 million Powerball jackpot, the largest in the game's history.

It's a scene being repeated across the 42 states, plus Washington, D.C., and the Virgin Islands, where Powerball is played.

For Keith "Stix" Lexa, the dream is buying a farm. Lexa, who lives in Queens, N.Y., and works at Grand Central as a Metro-North Railroad mechanic, is a self-proclaimed "big gambler" who plays the lottery regularly. 

"I would buy a farm, a bunch of horses," Lexa said. "I've always loved animals." For good measure, he said, he'd also invest in Budweiser.


Overhearing him, Tony, Lexa's friend and co-worker, said he'd buy the farm next door so he could drop by and bug him.

At the Hudson News kiosk where Lexa bought his tickets, more than $1,600 had been spent on Powerball tickets between 7 and 9 a.m. That kind of activity, repeated at store after store across the country, helped drive the estimated jackpot from $425 million to $500 million for Wednesday night's drawing.

As big as this week's Powerball jackpot is, it's not the largest lottery prize ever. That mark is held by the $656 million Mega Millions jackpot that was split by three ticket buyers earlier this year. The biggest Powerball prize was $365 million in 2006, shared by several ConAgra Foods Workers in Lincoln, Neb.

Jonathan Sanger / NBC News

Keith "Stix" Lexa and Tony joke about what they would buy if they won the $425 million Powerball jackpot at a Hudson News store in Grand Central Station in New York City on Nov. 27.

Chuck Strutt, executive director of Multi-State Lottery Association, the group that runs Powerball, told The Associated Press there's a 60 percent chance the prize will be won Wednesday. Strutt added the odds of someone taking home the prize can improve if there's a large number of last-minute ticket purchasers picking unique numbers.

Jonathan Sanger / NBC News

Eusebio Wilson-Pinto writes numbers on his Powerball ticket at a Hudson News store in Grand Central Station in New York City on Nov. 27.

One reason for the big pot is because Powerball tickets doubled in price to reach $2 in January, which led to an increase in revenue of about 35 percent over 2011. Strutt told The AP that sales for Powerball reached a record $3.96 billion in fiscal 2012, which ended in September, and are expected to reach $5 billion this fiscal year.

In interviews Tuesday, the consensus among both amateur and experienced players at Grand Central was that quitting their job was the first thing they'd do if they won.

Dominic DeCarlo, who was commuting through the station to his job in finance in Manhattan, said he doesn't think about winning too much because he gets discouraged.

"Playing this is against all laws of finance," he said, adding: "I'd probably quit my job, buy a nice house, maybe leave the country."

Eusebio Wilson-Pinto, a tennis instructor who lives in the Bronx and plays every day, said he'd use some of the money to buy the business that employs him and become his boss's boss.

"You got to bribe your boss sometimes," he said.

Teresa White, a mother and a grandmother who lives in Brooklyn and works for MTA Metro-North Railroad, said she'd give half of her prize to a charity that supports education.

Father of four Antonio Macias, 69, who used to work in a Midtown Manhattan jewelry store and said he's been playing the lottery since the late 1970s, would split it among his four sons.

"Happiness is with them," he said.

Jonathan Sanger / NBC News

Jennifer, who did not give her last name, poses for a portrait after purchasing a Powerball ticket at a Hudson News store in Grand Central Station in New York City on Nov. 27.

 

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