Many call it a fools game or an idiots tax.
Its probably safe to say that few of those caught up in Saturday nights Powerball frenzy really expect their $2 lottery ticket to bring big houses, fancy cars, endless vacations or anything close to the lap of luxury.
But as the jackpot ballooned to a record $600 million by midday Friday, with surging ticket sales expected to take it even higher before the drawing, many in North Carolina reached into their wallets knowing the odds of winning are about 1 in 175 million.
We pretty much all realize this is a fools game, said Charles Jefferson, a dreamer with several tickets who works at Nicholsons Barber & Style Shop in downtown Raleigh. But its something that allows people to dream and hope.
To win the big bonanza, players must match five numbers along with the red Powerball number on the $2 ticket. The winning numbers will be announced at 11 p.m. EST Saturday.
Carolyn Dumas, 50, of Raleigh, bought three tickets with her mother. Each woman has a set of numbers they choose for a ticket, and they let the computer select randomly for one ticket.
They know their chances at success are slim, but Dumas and other ticket holders brim with optimism that they may be among the rare group that collects big winnings with a familiar phrase I never thought it could happen to me.
The last jackpot in Powerball a nationwide contest was won on March 30.
In the six subsequent weeks, a lack of winners meant the possible prize has climbed to the largest in Powerballs history.
The largest lottery prize ever $656 million in a different national game, Mega Millions was split three ways in March 2012, with winners in Illinois, Kansas and Maryland.
Close, but not quite
Four North Carolina Powerball tickets have come close in the past six weeks to hitting it big. Tickets sold in Jacksonville, Winston-Salem, Asheville and Charlotte have all matched the five white balls in different Powerball drawings a million dollar feat on its own but not had the red Powerball number that could have garnered the big bonanza.
The holders of the tickets purchased in Asheville for the May 11 drawing and in Charlotte for the May 15 drawing have not come forward to claim their prizes.
Paula Lampkins, a hospital housekeeper in Winston-Salem, stepped forward earlier this week after realizing she was just one red Powerball away from hitting the jackpot. She collected $680,000 after taxes.
Lampkins planned to share some of her winnings with her nine brothers and sisters and two adult children, to help her roommate and to buy a house.
Kris and Debbie Minanov, Michigan residents in Raleigh on Friday to celebrate their 20th wedding anniversary, fantasized about retiring and buying a house on the beach near Wilmington if they hit it big in Saturdays Powerball. But as they explained how they planned to put their childrens birth dates and wedding anniversary on one of five tickets and let the computer select the numbers for at least one, the couple acknowledged that their expectations were low.
The technical term for this, I think, is an idiot tax, said Kris Minanov.
Since North Carolina started offering the Powerball game in 2006, three North Carolina players have won the jackpot. Jackie Alston of Halifax won $74.5 million in November 2006, Jeff Wilson of Kings Mountain won $88.1 million in June 2009 and Frank Griffin of Asheville won $141.4 million in February 2010.
A shared daydream
It is success stories such as those as slim as they are that have created a shared daydream across the country.
Even with odds of winning the jackpot far greater than a golfer hitting a hole in one on consecutive par-3 holes (those chances are one in about 156 million, according to U.S. Hole in One), a $2 ticket buys one sure thing.
Its the fantasy, however fleeting, ticket holders say, of wondering what it would be like to have a life-changing financial windfall and how to save or spend it.
Database editor David Raynor contributed to this report.