US, UK lotteries boast record jackpots this weekend after making it harder to win

record-lottery-jackpotsLottery fever has broken out in the United States as this weekend’s Powerball jackpot appears poised to break the $1b barrier for the first time in history.

Powerball has gone 18 drawings without a jackpot winner, making the estimated jackpot for Saturday’s draw around $700m as of Thursday. Observers expect the last-minute frenzy of fortune seekers could push the eventual prize over the $1b mark.

Whatever its eventual value, this weekend’s jackpot has already set a record for the largest prize in US lottery history. As it stands, anyone who correctly predicts all five numbers plus the Powerball would receive a lump sum payment of $428.4m before taxes.

The throngs of ticket buyers who presumably can’t be motivated to get off their flabby asses and venture down to the local 7-11 when the jackpot is a mere $100m or so have miraculously found the strength to walk upright. The Los Angeles Times reported sales in California went from $7m on Tuesday to $20m on Wednesday to $37m by 7pm Thursday.

The potential for larger jackpots – and the guarantee of reams of free publicity that comes with upper-nine-figure prizes – was the rationale behind Powerball’s recent decision to add 10 balls to the original 59 numbered balls from which the winning digits are drawn.

The UK’s National Lottery also added 10 more balls to its set of 49 balls last October, and the reduced odds of winning – from one in 14m to one in 45m – has had a similar effect on jackpot girth. The National Lottery is currently running a streak of 14 rollovers, leaving Saturday’s drawing valued at close to £60m, a new record.

The flurry of last-minute online ticket buyers for Wednesday’s drawing was sufficiently large to crash lottery operator Camelot’s website for 10 minutes, and the company is urging players to make their purchases well in advance in order to ensure they’re not left empty handed (although that would be good practice for the letdown they’ll inevitably suffer when their numbers fail to appear on Saturday).

Somebody besides Camelot will go home a winner on Saturday, as Camelot instituted new rules that cap the number of rollovers at 14. If no one successfully selects all six winning numbers, the jackpot must be split among winners in the next tier where there is at least one winner (such as five main numbers and the bonus ball).

Meanwhile, we sincerely hope this hysterically honest dude wins the Powerball mother lode…