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US lottery Powerball jackpot nears record

A customer purchases Powerball lottery tickets at a convenience store in Washington, DC, on November 26, 2012
A customer purchases Powerball lottery tickets at a convenience store in Washington, DC, on November 26, 2012. Lottery fever gripped the United States on Friday as the Powerball jackpot hit a record $600 million thanks to a coast-to-coast ticket-buying fr

Lottery fever gripped the United States on Friday as the Powerball jackpot hit a record $600 million thanks to a coast-to-coast ticket-buying frenzy by wannabe instant millionaires.

In a statement, the Iowa state lottery agency said the jackpot -- played in 43 states -- now is "the largest in the 21-year history of the game" as well as the second-largest in world lottery history.

"Strong sales across the country are the reason the prize is taking big jumps now," it said -- particularly after Wednesday's drawing, when the jackpot stood at $363.9 million, failed to come up with a winner.

Indeed, the last time anyone hit the jackpot was March 30.

The fact that Californians since April 7 can play Powerball -- a choice of five numbers from a pool of 59, plus a Powerball number from a separate pool of 35 -- is also credited with robust sales of the $2 tickets.

The richest US jackpot of all time was $656 million, won in a Mega Millions drawing in March 2012 and split between three tickets in Illinois, Kansas and Maryland. Like all US lotteries, the winnings are subject to tax.

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