Odds Improve in $550 Million Powerball Lottery

Mathematically challenged Americans snap up tickets, despite 175 million-to-1 odds of winning.

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What would you do with $550 million?

The Powerball lottery prize is halfway to $1 billion, the second-highest total ever. As the prize increases, so do the ticket-buyers, making it all the more likely Wednesday's drawing will make someone, or several people, millions of dollars richer.

The past 16 times Powerball numbers have been drawn, there has been no winner. The result is Wednesday's $550 million jackpot, which trails only the $656 million Mega Millions jackpot in March for the largest purse in history.

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As with that prize, the huge number led to more and more ticket purchases. Since Saturday, an estimated $214 million worth of tickets have been purchased, according to the Associated Press. The demand for tickets also increases the likelihood that several people will hit the right numbers, as was the case in March, when the winnings were split three ways.

Still, the odds of winning are astronomical: about 175 million-to-1, according to Powerball. And even if you do win, you won't bring home all $550 million. The federal government takes a quarter of the jackpot in taxes, most states take a small share, and some cities even take a slice. That puts the actual cash value of the winnings around $360 million.

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That's still enough to buy a small market professional baseball team, a 400-foot yacht, or fund one of the most expensive films ever made.

The huge jackpot and ticket sales have also pushed up the prize for second place. Players who match five numbers (instead of the six matches required for the jackpot) will win $1 million. The odds of doing that are significantly better, about 5 million-to-1. Last year, 500 people won the second place prizes. The odds drop because the first five numbers are all traditional white balls — of which there are many combinations. But there are only 35 red "powerballs," which are required to win the jackpot.

The drawing will take place Wednesday at 10:59 p.m. EST. The drawing is nationally televised, and Powerball provides a list of channels here. You can buy a ticket up to one or two hours before the draw, depending where you purchase a ticket.

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Seth Cline is a reporter for U.S. News & World Report. You can follow him on Twitter or reach him at scline@usnews.com.

Corrected on 11/28/2012: This article initially misidentified the jackpot as being $500 million.