COLUMBIA, SC — Michael Cody was hoping Friday was his lucky day.
The North Carolina native dropped in at the Wright Way convenience store at Rosewood Drive and Kilbourne Road and scratched out numbers for a few Powerball tickets. He had good reason for looking a little more nervous than your average lottery player. He was about to propose to his girlfriend at a surprise party in Columbia later that night.
I picked numbers important to us, her birthday, my birthday, our anniversary, he said. Its part of why I decided to play.
Its not the only reason Cody and millions of other Americans are playing Powerball. When the numbers pop in at Saturday nights drawing, a winner could walk away with $600 million, the biggest jackpot in the games history and the second-largest lottery prize ever. The jackpot is expected to climb even higher as sales surge Saturday, according to the South Carolina Education lottery.
If theres a winner, Saturdays jackpot will break the previous record of $578 million set last November. Its the latest in a string of big numbers. The increase in big jackpots for the game are due to an increase in price for the game from $1 a ticket to $2 in January 2012. Since then, more than 650 people have become millionaires playing Powerball.
One player, Pam Moore, said its easy to see why so many people play.
Its money, she said. Its free money. Well, almost.
Moore plays the lottery, but doesnt usually buy Powerball tickets because of the long odds of winning. But she said the $600 million jackpot was too enticing to pass up. If she wins, she plans to take care of some bills, pay her childs college tuition and buy a plot of land in the mountains. Then, she said, she is going fly fishing.
Moore wasnt the only occasional Powerball player trying their hand Friday. Store manager Trishia Williams said theyve been selling about $300 more in Powerball tickets than usual the past two days, and theyve seen some people come and buy tickets in bulk.
Somebody came in this morning and bought $150 in tickets just today, she said Friday.
Theyre expecting sales to be even higher Saturday. Clerk Leisa Stocker said that the day of Novembers jackpot, a line snaked around the whole store for her entire shift. With todays jackpot, she expects even longer lines until the 9:59 p.m. cutoff.
Once its like that, you are stuck all day, Stocker said. You cant go to the bathroom or take a break because youre constantly selling tickets.
Despite all the excitement, Cody doesnt expect to win the odds are 1 in 176 million, after all but he is having fun thinking about the possibility.
He said he would use the money to help out family, donate to charity and start a business. But he said it would all be a bonus to hitting the jackpot if his girlfriend said, Yes.