Powerball jackpot now up to $550 million

COLUMBIA, SC (WCSC) - Powerball officials say the jackpot for Wednesday night's drawing is now $550 million.

The Powerball jackpot drawing, now for $550 million, is only surpassed in stature by March's Mega Millions drawing worth a staggering $656 million.

For Powerball, this run at history is sweeter, due to changes made in January, when the cost of a Powerball ticket doubled to $2 touting bigger jackpots and more winners for its players.

Since the move, Powerball reports sales revenue nationally has increased by about 35 percent over 2011, to a record $3.96 billion. The current jackpot run that began October 6 has seen sales exceed $714 million for the 42 states, Washington D.C. and U.S. Virgin Islands that offer the Powerball game.

Lottery officials in South Carolina are sensing this trend and reporting brisk ticket sales statewide.

"A lot of players will be buying their first Powerball ticket today," said the Lottery's Executive Director Paula Harper Bethea. "With all the media attention, you can't hide from this half-a-billion dollar jackpot, but we want to urge those new to the game and those loyal to Powerball to please play responsibly."

"At the end of the day, when the jackpot frenzy has passed, the real winner here is education. The Lottery was established with the sole purpose to generate revenue to underpin education, and we have committed $2.9 billion to the State. This jackpot run will allow us to transfer even more," added Bethea.

Should South Carolina sell the coveted $500 million golden ticket tonight, the State will win with the 7 percent state tax owed on the winnings. The federal government keeps 25 percent.

According to a statement released by Powerball, there is a 60 percent chance tonight's drawing will produce a winner. Before taxes, that's a $327 million cash payout.

Copyright 2012 WCSC.  All rights reserved.  The Associated Press contributed to this report.