Local lottery players look to cash in

By Eric Florip, Columbian transportation & environment reporter

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Jim Wood is a regular lottery player. The Vancouver resident said he buys at least one Powerball ticket every week.

On Friday, Wood bought four tickets, increasing (slightly) his chance at the biggest payday Powerball has ever offered. The local Santa-for-hire was among a steady stream of lunch-hour customers at a downtown convenience store, visions of early retirements and vacations dancing in their heads.

By Friday morning, the Powerball jackpot had climbed to an estimated $600 million -- the largest prize in the game's history, and the second-largest lottery jackpot ever.

If he wins big, Wood expects he wouldn't keep most of it.

"I'd keep enough to retire on and give the rest away," Wood said. "You could help a lot of people with that money."

The most recent drawing, on Wednesday, produced no winning ticket. The next drawing happens at 8 p.m. Saturday.

The $600 million jackpot translates to a $376 million cash value if you opt for the one-time payment. The annuity option spreads your winnings out in 30 payments over 29 years.

A handful of people who bought tickets in Vancouver on Friday said family, charity and vacation would come first if they win big. Vancouver resident Christina Allemang offered a more practical answer:

"I think I'd have to go hire a financial planner," she said.

And then?

"It's always about family first," Allemang said.

National lottery games have produced some sky-high jackpots in recent years. That's largely due to an expansion in the number of states offering them starting in 2010, said Washington's Lottery spokesman Arlen Harris. The price of a Powerball ticket also jumped from $1 to $2 at that time, he said.

It's unclear if the latest Powerball jackpot will eclipse the largest prize ever -- a $656 million Mega Millions prize handed out in 2012 -- before Saturday's drawing.

"It really depends on what sales are like," Harris said.

Each Powerball drawing reveals six numbers: five white balls, and the red "Powerball". Match all six, and you've hit the jackpot.

The odds of doing that are about one in 175 million. The odds of winning any prize are about one in 31, Harris said.

Not feeling lucky? The Sunday edition of a certain Clark County newspaper also costs $2.

Eric Florip: 360-735-4541; http://twitter.com/col_enviro;eric.florip@columbian.com.