The drawing for the second-largest lottery jackpot of all time is Wednesday night, when it will either irrevocably alter the life of a lucky ticket holder or send the nation into a never-before-seen state of money mania — again.
Eight months after a $656 million Mega Millions jackpot captured the imagination of wishful gamblers, this week's Powerball jackpot is doing the same, with the prize reaching $500 million Tuesday. The cash value of Wednesday's jackpot — for which tickets can be bought in 42 states, the District and the U.S. Virgin Islands — is $327 million.
Lottery officials said it's the largest Powerball jackpot since the game started in 1992, and the first sign that upping the ticket price from $1 to $2 in January has had an impact on the game.
"Who knew history could happen again in the same calendar year?" said Virginia Lottery Executive Director Paula Otto. "This is definitely resetting jackpot fever."
Wednesday's Powerball prize grew to its current size after 15 drawings without a winner, said Maryland Lottery spokeswoman Carole Everett, though she also credits the news for helping to generate interest.
"As soon as someone wins, you get a big story," Ms. Everett said. "It's exciting. Everybody's talking about it."
In late March, area residents watched for several weeks as the Mega Millions jackpot rolled over and over before finally surpassing a half-billion-dollar prize. By the time the three winning tickets were drawn, fevered ticket sales had pushed the jackpot to $656 million.
Not counting this week's Powerball jackpot, the next largest payout in lottery history was in January 2011, when winners in Idaho and Washington state split $240 million. In 2007, a $233.1 million cash prize was split by two ticket holders in New Jersey and Georgia.
Dozens of winning scratch-off tickets, second-tier cash prizes for the multimillion-dollar games and a handful of million-dollar tickets have been sold in the D.C. area.
In 2009, a grocery store in Southeast sold a winning Powerball ticket worth $144 million. D.C. Powerball spokeswoman Athena Hernandez said this week's "sales had been brisk" and likely would hit $1 million worth of tickets in the District alone by Wednesday night's drawing.
On Christmas Eve 2011, Wesley's Restaurant and Cocktails in Elkton, Md., sold a winning $125 million Powerball ticket to a man who came in to buy beer. During the Mega Millions hysteria, the establishment had seen lines of people hoping for lightning to strike twice, said Jeff Wesley, who sold the winning ticket.
This time around, he said people are coming in to buy tickets by the hundreds.
Mr. Wesley said some people come in and say they think the store has used up its luck from last year, but he sees it differently.
"Now that it's happened once, I truly believe it can happen again."
The Quick Shop in Ottumwa, Iowa, is one of the state's highest-volume lottery ticket sellers due to its location across the street from a John Deere farm equipment factory.
"It's picking up by the minute," store owner Mark Ebelsheiser said. "We're selling probably 60 [percent] to 70 percent more than normal. When it gets up this high, they really come out and get them."
Bob Allison, a retired Indian Hills Community College instructor and administrator, buys tickets weekly for a group of people at the college in Ottumwa. On Tuesday, he and two golfing and fishing buddies went in together to buy additional tickets. Mr. Allison said he usually buys a few additional tickets when the jackpot gets so high.
He said he would make a lot of people very happy if he won.
"My kids would probably retire quick," said the father of three daughters.
In the District, a slow stream of people bought tickets as they left work Tuesday evening at the BP station at the intersection of Bladensburg Road and New York Avenue Northeast.
Paul Tse, 24, spent about 10 minutes debating what numbers he would pick for his two tickets.
The Greenbelt resident said he "didn't want to go crazy" like some ticket buyers.
"I figured if I was gonna win it was my time," he said.
If he wins, Mr. Tse will be looking to his family.
"I'd spent it among my close relatives. All of our cousins are really close," he said. "I'd probably save a third of it, then splurge."
Jason Kurland, a New York attorney who has represented several jackpot winners, said what draws a person to play the lottery is "imagining what you're going to do when you win. You're spending $2 for that fantasy."
Mr. Kurland's firm Certilman Balin Adler & Hyman LLP has a detailed list of instructions on its website, directing lottery winners on what to do after a drawing.
It resembles the same instructions for when a person catches fire: Stop, drop and roll.
First, the ticket holder should stop what he's doing and make sure he's actually won, Mr. Kurland said.
Mr. Kurland said he has had would-be clients come in with handwritten numbers, only to realize they had accidentally written their own ticket number rather than the winning numbers.
Once you've confirmed you're a winner, sign the back of the ticket and put it in a safe place or lock box until you have advisers to help you with your decision.
Then, Mr. Kurland said, it's time to roll out of town.
"Some states will make you be front and center, but if you want even an ounce of anonymity, it's best to lay low or go on vacation.
"I've told this to people before: They're now one of the richest people in the world, and they have to start acting like it."
But Mr. Kurland admitted that not everyone will require his help after this week's jackpot drawing.
"You already think it's going to be possible, there's anticipation, but 99.9999 percent of people realize they didn't win," Mr. Kurland said. "The odds of winning are so astronomical. What you're really buying is the dream of winning."
• This article is based in part on wire service reports.
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