Americans were lining up for last-chance tickets before a $550-million US lottery drawing, the second largest in U.S. history.

A lottery jackpot rose to $550 million Wednesday, as Americans went on a ticket-buying spree and many people who rarely, if ever, play the lottery were enticed to purchase a shot at the second-largest payout in U.S. history.

Tickets were selling at a rate of 130,000 a minute nationwide — about six times the volume from a week ago. That meant the jackpot could climb even higher before the Wednesday night drawing, said Chuck Strutt, executive director of the Multi-State Lottery Association.

The jackpot has already rolled over 16 consecutive times without a winner, but Powerball officials say they now believe there is a 75 per cent chance the winning combination will be drawn this time.

If one ticket hits the right numbers, chances are good that multiple ones will, according to some experts. That happened in the Mega Millions drawing in March, when three ticket buyers shared a $656 million jackpot, which remains the largest lottery payout of all time.

Even past winners of huge jackpots weren't immune to the excitement.

On Tuesday, Dung Tran, a Vietnamese immigrant, was among eight Nebraska ConAgra workers who split a $365-million jackpot in February 2006. He purchased 22 tickets for Wednesday's drawing from the same Lincoln U-Stop employee who sold him his prize winner, cashier Janice Mitzner said.

"We joked about it," she said. "I told him, 'Wouldn't it be something if you won again?'"

Past winners of mega-lottery drawings and financial planners have sound advice for whoever has the winning numbers:

  • Stick to a budget.
  • Invest wisely.
  • Learn to say no.
  • Be prepared to lose friends while riding an emotional roller-coaster of joy, anxiety, guilt and distrust.

"I had to adapt to this new life," said Sandra Hayes, 52, a former child services social worker who split a $224-million Powerball jackpot with a dozen co-workers in 2006. She collected a lump sum she said was in excess of $6 million after taxes.

Powerball jackpot total jumps on brisk sales

The record Powerball jackpot now stands at $550 million, with brisk sales driving up the payout amount.

The jackpot was boosted to $500 million on Tuesday and raised again Wednesday morning.

A winner taking the cash option would get $360.2 million before taxes.

The numbers drawn Wednesday night for the record draw were: 5, 16, 22, 23, 29 and Powerball of 6.

Hayes, a single mother, kept her job with the state of Missouri for another month and immediately used her winnings to pay off an estimated $100,000 in student loans and a $70,000 mortgage. She spent a week in Hawaii and bought a new Lexus.

But six years later, she still shops at discount stores and lives on a fixed income — albeit, at a higher monthly allowance than when she brought home paycheques of less than $500 a week.

"I know a lot of people who won the lottery and are broke today," she said. "If you're not disciplined, you will go broke. I don't care how much money you have."

Money doesn't change some habits

There's the two-time New Jersey lottery winner who squandered her $5.4-million fortune. There's also a West Virginia man who won $315 million a decade ago on Christmas and later said the windfall was to blame for his granddaughter's fatal drug overdose, his divorce, hundreds of lawsuits and an absence of true friends.

The National Endowment for Financial Education estimates that as many as 70 per cent of people who land large sums of money lose that cash within several years. The Denver-based non-profit organization cautions those who receive a financial windfall to plan for their psychological needs as well as their financial strategies.

David Gehle spent 20 years at a Nebraska meat-packing plant before he, Tran and the other six ConAgra Foods co-workers won the Powerball jackpot. He left ConAgra three weeks later, and now spends his time woodworking and playing racquetball, tennis and golf.

But most of his winnings are invested, and the 59-year-old still lives in his native Lincoln. He waited for several years before buying a $450,000 home in a tidy neighbourhood on the southern edge of town.

"My roots are in Nebraska, and I'm not all that much different now than I was before," Gehle said.