Powerball sales surged Wednesday as the drawing for the record jackpot neared.
The jackpot was boosted to $550 million – more than half-a-billion dollars late this morning. But Mary Neubauer, spokeswoman for the Iowa Lottery, predicted the jackpot would continue to climb as the 9:59 p.m. drawing approached.
Nationally, tickets were selling at a rate of 105,000 per minute.
“Which is just pretty out there,” she said. “I'm not really sure how else to refer to it.”
On the other side of the Missouri River, nearly $463,000 in Powerball tickets had been sold Monday in Nebraska as of 11:10 a.m. in 99,464 transactions.
In other words, if each of those transactions represents one person, one in every 18 Nebraskans purchased a Powerball ticket Wednesday morning.
“As you can see its going to be a very big day for our Powerball sales,” Niel Watson, spokesman for the Nebraska Lottery, said.
Things were already picking up Tuesday afternoon at the Hy-Vee at 108th and Fort Streets. There, Carrie Toma of Omaha wielded a pen attached to a plastic spoon to fill in the numbers for her Powerball ticket.
Toma isn't a regular player, but the chance to win a record jackpot brought her tthere. She struggled to remember the date of her granddaughter's birth to fill in some of the numbers.
“I only play when it gets in the hundreds of millions,” she said.
People like Toma, 52, helped drive up the historic Powerball jackpot, which had been $425 million earlier Tuesday.
Massive sales of the $2 tickets were reported around the nation in advance of tonight's drawing.
The jackpot is the largest ever for a Powerball drawing and the second-largest lottery jackpot of all time, trailing only a $656 million Mega Millions prize in March.
Powerball is played in 42 states, including Nebraska and Iowa.
“It's into uncharted territory,” said Neubauer. “It's growing by leaps and bounds.”
Watson said Powerball sales totaled $1.9 million in the state last week. In a normal week, sales are about $700,000.
“It's something we always see when the jackpot gets high,” he said.
At the Hy-Vee at 108th and Fort Streets, the line was two or more deep at times at the customer service counter where Powerball tickets are sold.
A back injury during her youth has left Toma disabled, able to stand for more than a minute only by leaning on something. She lives nearby and said she would buy a house and a car — two things she does not currently have — if she hit the jackpot.
“Gosh, I would be so happy,” she said, closing her eyes. “Oh my God.”
But she also would share the money with loved ones, she said. She would start a college trust fund for her two grandchildren and give her four living siblings enough to help them pay off their homes.
Generosity to family was also on the minds of two Union Pacific retirees who also bought tickets at Hy-Vee on Tuesday.
Celestine Harris, 67, said she would share the money with friends and family who could use it.
“I would help people, but I'm going to go to them; they aren't going to come to me,” she said
Said Paul Vecchio, 65: “My children, my grandchildren, would not have to work again. ... My three kids and my four grandchildren will be set for the rest of their lives.”
Said Harris, “I couldn't spend all that money (in) the rest of my life.”
Added Vecchio: “You couldn't spend the interest.”
This report includes material from The Associated Press.
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