BATON ROUGE, La. The Powerball jackpot for Saturday's drawing rises again.
The Multi-State Lottery Association, which operates the game for 45 lotteries including Louisiana's, said Thursday the jackpot climbs to $550 million thanks to a nationwide surge in sales. Before the increase, the advertised jackpot was $475 million. The cash value of the May 18 jackpot is $350.1 million.
The jackpot was last hit March 30. Statewide, Powerball sales total more than $4.4 million for the week beginning Sunday and that number is expected to climb ahead of Saturday's drawing. Powerball tickets must be purchased by 9 p.m. that night.
The largest Powerball jackpot ever won is $587.5 million in November, which was split between two winning tickets.
The most recent Powerball jackpot won in Louisiana was in July 2010 for $85.7 million.
Lottery officials expect jackpot totals of this size to continue to climb in shorter amounts of time, thanks in part to a game redesign in January 2012 that increased the odds of winning some kind of prize, but also lowered the possible number combinations to win the Powerball.
There's also "cross-selling" of Powerball and Mega Millions tickets -- states being able to sell both Powerball tickets and Mega Millions tickets -- that began in January 2010. As a result, large jackpots will continue to surpass all-time jackpot records set years ago, said Mary Neubauer, spokeswoman for the Iowa Lottery. Iowa is one of the founding Powerball states.
"It usually took a handful of months, if not several months, for a jackpot to reach this large amount," she said. "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 redesign means players don't necessarily have to strike big to get lucky. A $1 increase and new $1 million and $2 million prizes mean the odds of winning something have increased. Just last Saturday, there was no Powerball jackpot winner, but more than a dozen tickets won $1 million prizes in 10 states.
In fact, more than half of the all-time jackpot records have been reached in the last three years. The top two all-time jackpots -- $656 million from a Mega Millions jackpot and $587.5 million from a Powerball jackpot -- were achieved in 2012.
The last major jackpot win came when a New Jersey man won a $338.3 million jackpot on March 23. It is now considered the fourth largest Powerball jackpot in history.
Players aren't complaining about the large sums. That just gets them thinking.
"I'd hire someone to tell me what to do with the money," said R.J. Konyek, 36, an engineer for Union Pacific in Omaha, Neb. "I'd definitely be up for the challenge (of spending the jackpot)."
Insurance agent Joe Williams, of Middleton, Wis., is trying like so many others to get lucky with Powerball. He won $500 several years ago and now wants to score a little higher. Williams doesn't necessarily spend more when the prize is high. But his $4 investment in the quick-pick option means he does spend.
"I know rationally it makes no sense," he said. "But at the same time, without a ticket, I have zero chance."
Ervin Torok, a truck driver from Sioux Falls, S.D., also is looking for his second chance. He won a $500 prize a few years back.
"You never know," Torok, 52, said while checking some lottery tickets from a gas station. "Maybe one day you'll get lucky and win."
Tom Powers, 52, a janitor from Omaha, Neb., bought several tickets Tuesday from a convenience store. He said he would definitely walk away from work if he won the jackpot, but he's not sure how he would spend all the winnings.
"It's really unfathomable the amount of money this is putting out," Powers said.