Who will win the second-highest jackpot in Powerball’s history?

Eight months after a trio of ticket buyers split a $656 million Mega Millions jackpot to set a world lottery record, Powerball is now offering a life-changing fortune of $500 million.

Chuck Strutt, executive director of Multi-State Lottery Association, predicts there’s about a 60 percent chance there will be a winner Wednesday, especially if there’s a flurry of last-minute ticket purchasers picking unique numbers.

The jackpot already has defied long odds by rolling over 16 consecutive times without anyone hitting the big prize. Strutt puts the odds at around 5 percent there will be no winner in the entire run, including Wednesday. As the drought increases, so too will the chances of it ending on the next draw, because ticket sales spike with a growing jackpot. Tickets are currently $2 each.

It’s been said one has a better chance of being struck by lightning than winning the Powerball. But that woefully understates the danger of lightning. Tim Norfolk, a University of Akron mathematics professor who teaches a course on gambling, puts the odds of a lightning strike in a person’s lifetime at 1 in 5,000. The odds of winning the Powerball jackpot: 1 in 175 million.

While weather, is the go-to analogy for such astronomical odds, Norfolk suggests there are better ones. For example, one has a slightly better chance of randomly picking the name of one specific female in the United States: 1 in 157 million, according to the latest census.

The odds of someone winning also increases as ticket sales do. So, too, do the odds of duplicate tickets, especially for people who choose their own numbers rather than letting the computer pick.

Prefer the lucky numbers of 7 or 11? You’re not alone. How about a loved one’s birthday? It’s 31 or lower, which are digits more frequently duplicated than 32 and up. There are 59 white balls and 35 red balls in the draw.

Norfolk predicts that if there is a winner, there will be multiple ones because mathematical theory shows that numbers have a way of clustering, even at much smaller sample sizes. If you take 23 random people, there’s about a 50-50 chance that at least two will have the same birthday, Norfolk. About 20 percent of players typically select their own numbers.

Clyde Barrow, director of the Center for Policy Analysis at UMass-Dartmouth, says addicted gamblers are less likely to turn to massive jackpot ticket games like Powerball than scratch-off games.

“Scratch-off players are looking for instant gratification and an instant win,” said Barrow. “A lot of those people don’t like playing lotto because you have to wait. You have to sit on it for a few days.”

Barrow also says gambling activity often increases as the economy gets worse. Strut also revealed sales largely stayed flat during the peak of the recession in 2008 and 2009, but picked up since.

Strutt is estimating there will be $214 million in sales for Wednesday’s drawing. Half the proceeds go to the prize pool — about a third of that to the big jackpot, with the rest to lower ones, including a new $1 million second prize. The other half goes to the lottery operations in the 42 states plus Washington, D.C., and the Virgin Islands where Powerball is played. This funds charitable efforts such as education, in addition to paying for overhead and compensating winning stores.

Based on reporting by the Associated Press.

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