California Lottery officials are projecting a jackpot of about $400 million for Wednesday night’s Powerball drawing, the third-largest prize this year and fifth-largest in U.S. lottery history.
In prior big jackpot situations, frenzied ticket sales have driven up the pot in the final hours before the drawing.
But lottery spokesman Alex Traverso said officials would have been informed Wednesday morning if the jackpot was going to jump.
“It feels like it snuck up on us a little bit,” Traverso said.
Wednesday’s big draw comes less than six weeks after a $425-million Powerball jackpot sparked lotto fever across Southern California. Since California joined the Powerball game in April, lottery officials say enormous jackpots have become more common.
About a month after California joined the $2-a-ticket game, the Powerball jackpot climbed to about $600 million, setting a record for the game. Then came the $425-million jackpot in early August.
If Wednesday’s jackpot rolls over, Traverso said past experience suggests Saturday’s draw will probably offer a prize of between $525 million and $550 million.
Last year, the state lottery got a glimpse of the possibilities when the prize for its Mega Millions multistate game grew to $656 million. That game alone added $300 million in sales for the lottery over two months, resulting in a 27% increase in total revenue for the year.
Powerball is larger than Mega Millions, with a starting jackpot more than three times as large. The games are similar -- requiring players to match up to six numbers -- and the odds of hitting the jackpot in each of the games are almost the same: 1 in about 175.2 million for Powerball and 1 in about 175.7 million for Mega Millions.
Officials say that, with Powerball's $2 tickets, jackpots in that game can rise faster with fewer tickets sold than in a game such as Mega Millions, which costs only $1 per play.
California Lottery spokesman Elias Dominguez said the winning numbers will be posted online about a half-hour after the draw, which takes place at 7:59 p.m. He said officials usually know within an hour if a California ticket has won.