Powerball's the hottest game in town

| Saturday, May 18, 2013, 1:26 a.m.

Security for her family is what Jana Latura of New Kensington was thinking about when she was buying tickets on Friday for Saturday night's near-record Powerball drawing.

“I would love to win it,” she said while buying lottery tickets at the GetGo station off Tarentum Bridge Road. “I'd pay off all my nieces' and nephews' mortgages, go to Vegas and set up college funds for all the great-nieces and -nephews.

“I'd do a lot of charity work,” she added.

Like millions of others in 43 states, the Virgin Islands and Washington, D.C., Latura is dreaming of hitting the jackpot, which has grown to an estimated $600 million.

That makes it the largest prize in the game's history and the world's second- largest lottery prize.

Lottery officials say the prize is growing quickly as there has been a rush to buy the $2 tickets. The jackpot has grown by an estimated $236 million since the last drawing, on Wednesday.

The last jackpot was won on March 30, so it's been growing for about six weeks.

The largest jackpot ever was a $656 million Mega Millions prize won in March 2012. That prize was split three ways with winners in Illinois, Kansas and Maryland.

The Mega Millions drawing scheduled for Friday night carried a jackpot of $190 million.

Odds of winning the Powerball jackpot are about 1 in 175 million.

But that isn't stopping people from buying tickets.

“It's been going crazy here with Powerball,” said GetGo team leader Diane McIntire.

Some customers were buying $50 and $75 worth of tickets, while some grab just one, and let the computer pick the numbers.

“Some say it only takes one to win,” she said.

Dan Malecki of Lower Burrell said he very seldom buys lottery tickets, but grabbed two for the Powerball.

“It's a wishful thought,” he said. “What would I do with all that money? The government would get half of it, anyway.”

Clyde Barrow, a professor at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth and an expert on state lotteries, said that when prizes reach the hundreds of millions of dollars, people who don't usually buy tickets will take a chance on $2 for millions more, and those who usually buy tickets will buy more.

Hype adds to the pool and drives the prize skyward, but the odds of winning on a single ticket remain the same, he said.

Pennsylvania retailers have sold $56.2 million worth of Powerball tickets since the “run” began in early April, officials said.

“I figured why not take a chance,” said Katie Mercurio of Springdale, who bought a single ticket. “I think it's silly when you buy an abundant amount. Why not buy just one? It's the same odds, pretty much.”

Lottery officials expect giant jackpots to continue to climb more quickly, thanks in part to a game redesign in January 2012 that increased the odds of winning some kind of prize and reduced possible number combinations to win the Powerball.

“It usually took a handful of months, if not several months, for a jackpot to reach this large amount,” said Mary Neubauer, spokeswoman for the Iowa Lottery, one of the founding Powerball states. “Now it's achieving that within a handful of weeks. I think the redesign is achieving exactly what we had wanted it to achieve, which is the bigger, faster-growing jackpot.”

The two highest all-time jackpots — $656 million from a Mega Millions drawing and $587.5 million from a Powerball drawing — occurred last year.

Since Pennsylvania became one of 43 states participating in the Powerball drawing in 2002, 16 jackpot tickets have been sold in the state, said Pennsylvania Lottery spokesman Gary Miller.

A Butler County winner won a $10.1 million cash prize in 2005.

The last time a Pittsburgh resident won a jackpot was that January, for a cash prize of $14.7 million, he said.

Barrow said the ever-larger prizes accomplish the goal of selling more tickets and bringing revenue to states and retailers.

In 2012, Pennsylvania lottery games raised more than $1 billion for programs for senior citizens.

“It's interesting that we're not getting excited until it hits $400 million now,” Barrow said. “It used to be everyone got excited around $200 million.

“We used to get these kind of stories once every few years; now we get them a couple times a year.”

Brian C. Rittmeyer and Matthew Santoni are staff writers for Trib Total Media. Rittmeyer can be reached at 724-226-4701 or brittmeyer@tribweb.com. Santoni can be reached at 412-380-5625 or msantoni@tribweb.com. The Trib's Stacey Federoff and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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