Powerball Fever Sweeps the Nation, Fuels $550 Million Jackpot

PHOTO: A customer buys three Powerball tickets at a local supermarket in Hialeah, Fla.,Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2012.
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The Powerball jackpot just increased to a record $550 million ahead of tonight's hotly anticipated lottery drawing.

The allure of the record Powerball jackpot has led to long lines across the nation at local mini-marts and gas stations, with Americans hoping their champagne and caviar dreams become a reality when the numbers are drawn tonight.

The jackpot was boosted Tuesday from $425 million to the historic $500 million sum. The jackpot swelled Wednesday to $550 million as millions of Americans rush to the store for their last chance to purchase a ticket and become a multi-millionaire overnight.

Powerball officials tell ABC News they are selling 131,000 tickets every minute leading up to the drawing, up from the expected 105,000 a minute. When the dust settles, more than 189 million tickets would have been sold for the half a billion-dollar jackpot. That's more than double the number sold for Saturday's $325 jackpot that nobody won.

ABC News was allowed access to the Powerball studios in Tallahassee, Fla., where the 11 p.m. ET drawing will take place. The closely guarded machines and balls are locked in a vault before the numbers are drawn and only a select few are allowed inside the room during the actual broadcast.

Anyone who enters or leaves the vault is documented and workers who handle the lottery balls wear gloves, worried that human touch might change what numbers are randomly drawn.

Cameras are located in every nook and cranny of the Powerball studio, spying on workers as they ready the machines for the big moment. Lottery officials in several states will be watching those feeds in real time to monitor the proceedings.

Not everyone has Powerball fever in the country as tickets for tonight's jackpot are not offered in eight states. But that has not stopped many Californians and Nevadans who have flocked to Arizona to get in on the action.

"I'd say the line has to be like three, three and a half hours," one person told ABC News while waiting online to purchase tickets Tuesday.

Still, the long lines have not deterred those who hope to dramatically change their lifestyle and make their wildest dreams become a reality.

"I'm going to the Bahamas and enjoying myself on an island," said one Powerball hopeful.

Chuck Strutt, executive director of the Des Moines, Iowa-based Multi-State Lottery Association, said the chance of getting a winner tonight is approaching 60 percent.

"We call it the redneck retirement fund cause sooner or later, somebody is going to," said one man.

There has been no Powerball winner since Oct. 6 – that's 16 consecutive drawings without a winner. It's the second-highest jackpot in US lottery history, behind only the $656 million Mega Millions prize in March.

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, according to the Associated Press.

Lottery officials put the odds of winning Wednesday's Powerball pot at one in 175 million. With so many people plaything this time around, some are worried it may hurt their odds.

"Your odds of being a winner are still the same. With so many people playing, it does mean are more likely to split the jackpot if you want," said Scott Norris, math professor at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

Everyone who lines up with cash in their hand and dreams in their head seems to have a strategy in picking the winning combination of numbers. Or, do you simply let the computer pick for you?

"It doesn't matter. Your odds of winning are actually the same no matter who picks it," said Norris. Norris says the only real advantage that can help someone is buying more tickets.

"Your odds increase directly proportional to the number of tickets you buy. So if you buy 100, your odds are 1 in 7 million, but still astronomically small," he said.

With odds so small in a game where just about anyone who plays is a loser, there is some hope for those living in Illinois and New Jersey. Both states have sold three winning tickets for jackpots worth at least $300 million.

A single winner choosing the lump sum cash option would take home more than $360.2 million before taxes.

ABC News' Steve Osunsami and Ryan Owens contributed to this report.

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