STEUBENVILLE - With no Powerball winner since Oct. 6, the game's jackpot has reached a record $500 million, and local residents are buying tickets in the hopes of sharing in the prize.
Laura Corsi said that demand for Powerball tickets had been "non-stop" all day Tuesday at the Convenient Food Mart at the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Lovers Lane in Steubenville.
"People have been buying $20, $30, $40 and $50 worth," she said, adding that not only had more people been purchasing tickets, but those who were regular lotto players were purchasing more tickets.
THE WINNING TICKET? — Tomi Skeens of Toronto fills out a Powerball form Tuesday at the Convenient Food Mart at the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Lovers Lane in Steubenville. -Summer Wallace-Minger
The jackpot was first posted at $425 million Tuesday morning but revised upward to $500 million when brisk sales increased the payout. It's the second highest jackpot in lottery history, behind only the $656 million Mega Millions prize in March. It took nine weeks for the Mega Millions jackpot to get that high, before three winners - from Kansas, Illinois and Maryland - hit the right numbers, each collecting $218.6 million for their share of the split.
Tomi Skeens, who stopped in to purchase a ticket, said if she won the jackpot, she would share the money with family and friends and help disabled veterans, while Corsi said she would likely quit working.
"I'd probably gamble it all away," admitted Nathan Paulmar, an employee at the store.
Corsi said that a $10,000 Kicker ticket and a $120,000 Rolling Cash 5 ticket had been sold at the store and added she hoped the winning Powerball ticket would be among the scores being purchased there.
"We've got the best staff - the friendliest and best service," she said.
Powerball has posted sales exceeding $714 million in the current jackpot run since early October and it's possible more than $1 billion in tickets will have been sold by the time the drawing is held at 10:59 p.m. today. The odds of any single ticket winning the big prize are 1 in 175 million.
A single winner choosing the cash option would take home more than $327 million before taxes.
Across the river, at Marland Heights Deli and More, located at 3815 Bright Way, Diane Bertha said the store hasn't had any big winners and is due for a win.
"Wouldn't it be wonderful if this were the winning ticket?" she asked, selling a ticket to Dennis Barnhart of Weirton.
Kimberly Hicks of Weirton said she would pay her parents' bills if she won.
"I'd take care of them for the rest of their lives," she said.
Bertha said demand for the tickets has increased recently, and many of those who are regular lotto customers are purchasing more tickets.
Frank Grieco of Weirton said he would like to purchase some land and open a business.
"It would be doing something I liked, and it wouldn't matter if I made money or not," he said.
Bertha said, if she were to win, she would purchase new cars for her children and beach houses - one for herself and one for visitors.
"I'd probably spend a month at the Mall of America," she said. "I'd be shopping and sunbathing - those are two things I'm good at."
Powerball tickets doubled in price in January to $2, and while the number of tickets sold initially dropped, sales revenue has increased by about 35 percent over 2011.
Sales for Powerball reached a record $3.96 billion in fiscal 2012 and are expected to reach $5 billion this year, said Chuck Strutt, executive director of the Des Moines, Iowa-based Multi-State Lottery Association, the group that runs the Powerball game.
With soaring jackpots come soaring sales, and for the states playing the game, that means higher revenue.
"The purpose for the lottery is to generate revenue for the respective states and their beneficiary programs," said Norm Lingle, chairman of the Powerball Game Group. "High jackpots certainly help the lottery achieve those goals."
Of the $2 cost of a Powerball ticket, $1 goes to the prizes and the other dollar is kept by the state lottery organization, said Lingle, who also is executive director of the South Dakota Lottery. After administrative overhead is paid, the remaining amount goes to that state's beneficiary programs.
Some states designate specific expenditures such as education, while others deposit the money in their general fund to help supplement tax revenue.
The federal government keeps 25 percent of the jackpot for federal taxes.
Most states withhold between 5 percent and 7 percent. There's no withholding in states without a state income tax such as Delaware, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, and Texas. A New York City winner would pay more than 12 percent since the state takes 8.97 percent and the city keeps 3.6 percent.
Powerball and Mega Millions games are seeing jackpots grow faster and higher in part because the states that play both games agreed in 2010 to sell to one another.
Both games are now played in 42 states, Washington, D.C., and the Virgin Islands. The larger pool of players means jackpots roll over to higher numbers faster, which tends to increase the buzz about the jackpots which increases sales. It all can result in higher jackpots sooner.
"It really happened when both of these games became national games," said Terry Rich, CEO of the Iowa Lottery.
Still, just seven of the top 25 jackpots occurred after January 2010 when the cross-selling began. That just points to the unpredictability of games of chance like lotteries. It still comes down to the luck of the numbers, Rich said.
It has been proven that once the jackpot reaches a certain threshold more players buy.
Between $20 and $30 million in tickets were sold between Wednesday and Saturday drawings for most of October. Once the jackpot hit $100 million on Oct. 27, nearly $38 million worth of tickets were sold by Oct. 31. As the jackpot grew to more than $200 million on Nov. 17, sales surged by nearly $70 million by the next Wednesday. Then the jackpot reached more than $300 million on Nov. 24 and ticket sales during the next four days surpassed $140 million.
"Somewhere around $100 million those occasional players seem to come back into the stores in droves," said Rich, the Iowa Lottery CEO. The lottery also notices a significant increase in workers and other groups joining together in pools to combine resources to buy numbers, he said.
Strutt said the chance of getting a winner today is approaching 60 percent.