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Lottery Jackpot, Largest in US History, Hits $800 Million

A corner store displays a Powerball lottery sign next to its cash register and checkout in Encinitas, California, Jan. 8, 2016.

People all around the U.S. are lining up to buy lottery tickets, while non-U.S. residents from around the world are buying them online.

And they have a powerful incentive: the biggest jackpot in U.S. history, at $800 million and climbing.

Since the Powerball Lottery drawing is not until Saturday evening, Florida time, the jackpot is likely to grow even more. Its size puts the long lines into perspective.

Even people who do not normally feel inclined to play say they don't want to lose this opportunity.

"When the jackpot gets that large, you have no choice but to play it, in my mind,” said Kevin Ramseur during his lunch hour in Washington, D.C. “I rarely play the lotto, the lottery or the Powerball, but when the jackpot gets over $300 million, I usually buy a few tickets."

The previous record was set in March 2012 with $656 million in the Mega Millions lottery.

Electrocuted, while drowning

The odds of winning are 1 in 292.2 million, according to the Multi-State Lottery Association, which runs the draw. Statisticians say it is easier to get hit by lightning while simultaneously drowning.

Customers wait in line to buy Powerball lottery tickets in Hawthorne, Calif., on Jan. 8, 2016.
Customers wait in line to buy Powerball lottery tickets in Hawthorne, Calif., on Jan. 8, 2016.

Despite the tiny, minimal, almost impossible likelihood of winning the lottery, many people are to spending their cash on tickets.

"I would pay off my husband's student loan debt, mine, my brother's. I'd buy my parents a house, maybe one for me," said Alicia Swenson, who had just gotten a ticket.

Other people say the jackpot is far too much money for one person.

"To be honest with you, I'd probably give most of it away," said Anthony Jenkins, adding that there are hundreds of people in need who he could help.

Most people, however, have a wide-ranging list of ways to splurge.

Michelle Jerman is one of them. She said the first thing she would do is pay Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump to drop out of the race. But then ...

"I want to buy a house, an island, some cars,” she said. “I want to buy a college for my daughter … and I want to name it after her. Maybe a few shopping malls."

$1 billion ahead?

Powerball drawings are held twice a week. This week, there was no winner for Wednesday's drawing, which helped create the current gigantic pot.

Powerball is played in 44 states, Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, where some of the money raised goes to fund local government services. However, anyone from Argentina to Kazakhstan can buy a ticket for the jackpot.

The drawing will be broadcast live Saturday night at 10:59 local time from Tallahassee, Florida. If there is no winning ticket, the pot could go up to $1 billion: a Powerball frenzy on steroids.