By Wally Kennedy
There are 59 white ones and 35 red ones.
You must pick the correct white ones and the correct red one to win. The odds of doing that — winning the Powerball jackpot — are one in 175 million.
But with tonight’s record Powerball drawing now exceeding more than $500 million, Powerball fever is spreading like wildfire despite those odds.
“You should come by here at 5 p.m.,’’ said Andrea Wagner, assistant manager of the Fastrip at 403 N. Main St., who was printing off yet another Powerball ticket for a customer Tuesday afternoon.
“We’ll be slammed when people get off work. But we’ll really be swamped before 9 p.m. Wednesday (tonight), which is an hour before the drawing.’’
Most customers at the convenience store were buying single tickets on Tuesday. But some were spending big bucks for lottery pools in which the winners will share the prize.
Wagner will be looking for one customer in particular.
“He always buys $318 worth of Powerball tickets,’’ she said. “And he always does that when it’s this big. He picks his own numbers. He brings in a stack of numbers that we must run.’’
For David Mullins, of Joplin, it was easier to let the computer pick his numbers on Tuesday.
“I got $10 worth. They’re just for me,’’ he said. “I play Powerball pretty regularly — more than I should — but it just takes that one chance.’’
Mullins, 59, said he would retire if he won. He also said he’d make “a few family members very happy.’’
Based on surging sales on Sunday and Monday, lottery officials decided on Tuesday to boost the Powerball jackpot from $425 million to $500 million. A single winner choosing the cash option would take home more than $327 million after taxes.
Rolling her eyes at the thought of winning that much money, Wagner said, “I could totally deal with it.’’
Lottery officials are expecting word of a half-billion-dollar jackpot to set off a fresh round of ticket buying today. This Powerball will have the second highest jackpot in lottery history, behind only the $656 million Mega Millions prize in March.
“Typically, 60 percent of sales occur the last day,’’ said Chuck Strutt, executive director of the Multi-State Lottery Association.
Strutt predicts there’s about a 60 percent chance someone will win today’s Powerball drawing — maybe better if there’s a flurry of last-minute ticket purchasers picking unique numbers.
In Missouri, Powerball sales surged last week to $4.9 million, according to Wendy Baker, public information spokeswoman for the Missouri Lottery. Average weekly Powerball sales are $1.8 million.
Part of the surge comes from ticket buyers who marshal their resources by tapping co-workers for $2 donations to a pool. That increases their collective odds of winning. As an example: Workers at Mid-America Precision Products say they have pooled $300 for 150 Powerball tickets.
Baker said the Missouri Lottery, via its website www.molottery.com, is providing guidance on how to organize a workplace pool.
“There are smart ways to do it if you are going to do it as a group,’’ she said.
A key recommendation: If you’re organizing group play, group rules should be discussed and then distributed to each member of the group, so everyone knows the group’s requirements and what will happen, according to those rules. When the rules are in writing, there’s no question about how to divide winnings or who is in the pool and who is not.
The organizer of the group play also should let the team know where the tickets were purchased and should make copies of the tickets for the group prior to the drawing. The tickets should be posted to let the team members know what the numbers are.
In most cases, the best advice is to keep it simple. Just list the people, say that everyone puts in an equal amount, and that everyone gets an equal share. You should also decide whether to take the 20-year payout or the lump sum. But if you really want a detailed contract, several websites offer free “Lottery Pool Agreements.’’
Should you win today’s jackpot, there’s a good chance you’ll have to share — and not just with Uncle Sam. The odds of someone winning increase as the ticket sales do. So, too, do the odds of duplicate tickets.
There has been no Powerball winner since Oct. 6. Between $20 million and $30 million in tickets were sold between the 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 over $300 million on Nov. 24 and ticket sales over the next four days surpassed $140 million.
With soaring sales, that means higher revenue for the states playing the game.
“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. 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 funds.
The federal government keeps 25 percent of the jackpot for federal taxes.
Powerball is now played in 42 states, Washington, D.C., and the Virgin Islands.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Powerball tickets doubled in price in January to $2. While the number of tickets sold initially dropped, sales revenue has increased by about 35 percent over 2011, according to the Multi-State Lottery Association. Sales for Powerball are expected to reach $5 billion this year.