$600 million Powerball jackpot attracts a crowd

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Vanessa Adams stood in line Friday afternoon at a Downtown convenience store hoping to win the largest Powerball jackpot in history.

"You might have the lucky one. You never know," the 58-year-old North Side resident said, noting she would keep $3 million and help fund cancer and AIDS research with her winnings.

A handwritten sign, taped to the door of Liberty News, boasted a $550 million Powerball jackpot. But by Friday afternoon, the flat screen facing everyone standing in line read $600 million.

By the cutoff at 9:59 tonight, that number will edge closer -- and may even surpass -- the all-time lottery record of $656 million set in a 2012 Mega Millions drawing.

Just before noon on Friday, Pennsylvanians spent $11,308.30 each minute on Powerball and Powerplay tickets, lottery officials said.

But for those who miss a chance to buy a ticket before tonight's drawing, half-billion-dollar jackpots will likely become increasingly common, owing in part to California's April entrance to Powerball.

The Golden State became the 43rd to join Powerball and has contributed about 11 percent, or $83 million, in ticket sales compared with Pennsylvania's $61 million over a similar period.

When Ms. Adams finally had her tickets in hand, she was asked what she thought her chances of winning are. Before she could answer, another woman in line quipped, "One in God's blessing."

That might not be far off the mark.

The odds of winning the Powerball jackpot are about one in 175 million, slightly better than the one in 195 million odds that existed before the rules were tweaked in January 2012.

Most people weren't fazed by their poor odds of getting rich overnight.

"I kind of joke around when I say it's an early retirement plan," said Jacky Kaiser a South Side resident collecting tickets as part of her 60-person office pool. "When the Powerball is over $300 million, we get interested as a group."

Playing the lottery can be entertaining, but the obsession surrounding big drawings is uniquely American and can contribute to negative public health outcomes, according to Dr. Timothy Fong, co-director of the gambling studies program and an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of California, Los Angeles.

"Whether it be cars, movies, strip clubs, casinos, portion sizes, there is something ingrained in our culture that we want to be the biggest, the best, the brightest, the most exceptional," Dr. Fong said.

"There's a much darker side to the lottery. People's lives can be damaged if not ruined," noting that larger drawings don't tend to be as problematic as smaller games because there aren't as many opportunities for gambling addicts to obsessively play.

Dr. Fong said states like California have increasingly turned to the lottery as a revenue stream, but it has also invested in large-scale treatment programs.

He said if states don't "include other provisions or safety nets for people who develop problems related to gambling, it's short-sighted."

Still, many figure spending $2 on a Powerball ticket for a chance at winning hundreds of millions isn't much of a risk, but Penn State statistics professor Donald Richards thinks it's a lost investment.

"It encourages people to hope to be hit by lightning," he said. "It's not two dollars you've lost. It's two dollars and all the investment income that two dollars could have generated over the course of a lifetime."

For Hugh Connolly, a 37-year-old bank manager who has purchased lottery tickets each week since he turned 18, playing the lottery isn't necessarily about winning -- it's about a two-day sense of hope.

"There's always the possibility something's better around the corner," he said.

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Alex Zimmerman: azimmerman@post-gazette.com or 412-263-3909 or on Twitter @AGZimmerman. The Associated Press contributed.


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