Frenzy in US as people rush to buy tickets for $2 billion Powerball lottery

People waiting in line to purchase tickets for the Powerball lottery in San Bernardino, California, last Saturday.
People waiting in line to purchase tickets for the Powerball lottery in San Bernardino, California, last Saturday.PHOTO: REUTERS
Hundreds of people waiting in line to purchase tickets for the Powerball lottery at a store in San Bernardino County, California.
Hundreds of people waiting in line to purchase tickets for the Powerball lottery at a store in San Bernardino County, California.PHOTO: REUTERS
Hundreds of people waiting in line to purchase tickets for the Powerball lottery at a store in San Bernardino County, California.
Hundreds of people waiting in line to purchase tickets for the Powerball lottery at a store in San Bernardino County, California.PHOTO: REUTERS
Hundreds of people waiting in line to purchase tickets for the Powerball lottery at a store in San Bernardino County, California.
Hundreds of people waiting in line to purchase tickets for the Powerball lottery at a store in San Bernardino County, California.PHOTO: REUTERS
Hundreds of people waiting in line to purchase tickets for the Powerball lottery at a store in San Bernardino County, California.
Hundreds of people waiting in line to purchase tickets for the Powerball lottery at a store in San Bernardino County, California.PHOTO: REUTERS
A Powerball lottery jackpot ticket.
A Powerball lottery jackpot ticket.PHOTO: EPA
An electronic billboard displaying the jackpot amount.
An electronic billboard displaying the jackpot amount.PHOTO: EPA
Signs promoting the multi-state Powerball lottery jackpot on a store's door in New York.
Signs promoting the multi-state Powerball lottery jackpot on a store's door in New York.PHOTO: EPA
Mr Mitch Bye unloading mock money that was used for staging in a press conference held by the Georgia Lottery.
Mr Mitch Bye unloading mock money that was used for staging in a press conference held by the Georgia Lottery.PHOTO: EPA
Georgia Lottery public relations manager Kimberly Starks posing between two mock security guards on a truck full of mock money used for a press conference.
Georgia Lottery public relations manager Kimberly Starks posing between two mock security guards on a truck full of mock money used for a press conference. PHOTO: EPA
A man walking past a sign showing the Powerball prize when it was worth US$999 million.
A man walking past a sign showing the Powerball prize when it was worth US$999 million. PHOTO: AFP
A worker changing the word million to billion, indicating the new jackpot amount for the multi-state Powerball lottery.
A worker changing the word million to billion, indicating the new jackpot amount for the multi-state Powerball lottery.PHOTO: EPA

CHICAGO (REUTERS) - Americans are rushing to buy tickets for a record US$1.4 billion (S$2 billion) Powerball jackpot, suspending disbelief despite miniscule odds that made winning more unlikely than being killed by an asteroid.

"People are buying hundreds at a time. We've sold more than US$1,000 worth of Powerball today, and it's still early," Mr Amin Haffar, owner of a Citgo service station in Chicago suburb Oak Lawn, said on Monday (Jan 11).

Illinois is one of 44 states, plus Washington D.C. and two US territories, that participate in Powerball. The grand prize in Wednesday's drawing is the world's richest lottery jackpot that could go to a single ticketholder, and the amount will rise further before then, lottery officials said.

A US$2 ticket has a one in 292.2 million chance of winning the grand prize, Powerball said. That compares with a one in 700,000 chance of being killed by an asteroid in a lifetime, according to astronomers at the Space Science Institute.

Dr Peter Finn, psychology professor at Indiana University in Bloomington, said people overestimate their chances of winning, and are driven by emotion instead of logic, which helps explain the frenzy.

"In general, people do not comprehend probability very well, especially when it has to do with the probability for unlikely events," he said. "When you buy the ticket, you get a little reward because you're thinking about what it might be like."

The Powerball pot, which has been growing since the last winner was drawn in November, is worth US$868 million if a winner chooses an immediate cash payout instead of annual payments over 29 years, according to Multi-State Lottery Association and Texas Lottery Commission officials.

While the US$1.4 billion is by far the largest ever up for grabs in North America, Spain's December 2015 El Gordo lottery, or "the Fat One," had a prize pool of US$2.45 billion. In 2014, it was US$2.7 billion. But El Gordo payouts are awarded to thousands of ticketholders while Powerball's riches could go to a single ticketholder.

One place that maintained its cool was the White House.

"I'm not aware that the President has purchased a Powerball ticket," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said to laughter at his daily briefing when asked how President Barack Obama feels about the lottery as a policy issue.

"Obviously the odds are long of winning, but people can certainly make up their own minds about whether or not it's a good way to spend their hard-earned dollars."