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Lottery fever heating up in Southwest Georgia

An electronic display shows the Powerball jackpot amount of $600 million as Andy Patel works the lottery machine at his Albany Express convenience store on Newton Road Friday. A record-setting jackpot has many people taking a chance at becoming an overnight multi-millionaire.

An electronic display shows the Powerball jackpot amount of $600 million as Andy Patel works the lottery machine at his Albany Express convenience store on Newton Road Friday. A record-setting jackpot has many people taking a chance at becoming an overnight multi-millionaire.

ALBANY, Ga. -- Georgia Lottery officials announced Friday that strong sales had bumped today's Powerball jackpot from an estimated $550 million to $600 million, the highest in the game's history.

This did not escape the attention of lottery ticket buyers in Albany.

"(The sales) are going quite well," said Hope Freeman with the Homerun Foods at 3315 Gillionville Road. "We've had people over the last couple of weeks who have bought $20 more of tickets here and there."

Late Friday afternoon, Freeman said the activity at the store she is working in has been such that she has hardly had time to settle down on the job as the drawing has come closer.

"The closer it has gotten, the more people are that pulling in," she said. "There have been a few new faces; some have been coming in from Florida.

"The last time (lottery fever was so high), I had only been here a few days and I was overwhelmed."

The current jackpot is also the second largest jackpot in U.S. history. Friday evening's Mega Millions jackpot was estimated to be $190 million -- making the back-to-back jackpots a national record of $790 million, lottery officials said Friday.

Kerry Rinker, who has been handling the ticket sales at the Woodall's on North Slappey Boulevard, said Friday afternoon that her register had been busy the whole time since her shift started an hour before.

"Today, right before changing shifts, we had a line," she said. "(Later on) we expect it to be more busy because it is payday, and it's the summertime."

Rinker said she's served four customers who have bought over 100 tickets for their office pool, and one woman who bought $440 worth of tickets.

Initial estimates indicate that ticket sales at Woodall's have been up by about 200 percent.

"We had many new folks come in," Rinker said.

Powerball offers two jackpot payment options, either the $600 million jackpot prize paid over 29 years in 30 graduated payments, or the cash option -- which was estimated at $376 million.

Tickets are $2 per play. The deadline to purchase tickets is 10 p.m. tonight, with the drawing to air an hour later.

Proceeds from Georgia Lottery games benefit education in the state of Georgia. Since its first year, the Georgia Lottery Corp. has returned more than $14.3 billion to the state for education.

All Georgia Lottery profits go to pay for specific educational programs, including the HOPE Scholarship Program and Georgia's Pre-K Program. More than 1.4 million students have received HOPE, and more than 1.2 million children have attended the statewide, voluntary Pre-K program, lottery officials say.