CHICAGO — Eight months after a trio of ticket buyers split a $656 million Mega Millions jackpot to set a world lottery record, Powerball is offering up a prize that would be the second-highest.

The $425 million jackpot, the largest in Powerball's history, represents a potential life-changing fortune. But before shelling out $2 for a ticket, here are some things to consider:

___

A GOOD BET: SOMEONE WILL WIN

It's the gambler's mantra: Somebody's gotta win, so why not me?

The first part is true; somebody will win the Powerball jackpot.

Chuck Strutt, executive director of Multi-State Lottery Association, predicts there's about a 60 percent chance it'll happen Wednesday – maybe better 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, which now stands at $425 million ($278.3 million cash value). Strutt puts the odds at around 5 percent there would 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.

Someone will win. Eventually.

___

A BAD BET: IT'LL BE YOU

It's true to say that you have 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, you'd have 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.

___

VICTORY LOVES COMPANY

Should you win the jackpot, there's a good chance you'll have to share – and not just with family, friends and Uncle Sam.

The odds of someone winning increase as the ticket sales do. So, too, do the odds of duplicate tickets, especially for people who choose their own numbers rather than letting the computers 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 – 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 said. Throw choice into the equation – about 20 percent of players typically select their own numbers – and the clusters could be even more defined.

That played out in March, when three tickets from Kansas, Maryland and Illinois split the world-record $656 million Mega Millions jackpot.

A single ticket holds Powerball's current record of $365 million in 2006, shared by several ConAgra Foods Workers in Lincoln, Neb.

___

FEELING LUCKY IN A BAD ECONOMY

Gambling experts say a majority of Americans will play some lottery game at least once in a given year.

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," Barrow said. "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."

While it may seem counterintuitive, Barrow says gambling activity often increases as the economy gets worse and people have less disposable income. However, his research – which focused mainly on New England – found the trend reversed in the latest downturn.

"The Great Recession has been so deep and so long, it's suppressed any kind of discretionary spending across the board," said Barrow, who added about the same percentage of people are playing the lottery – they're just buying fewer tickets.

Strutt, Powerball's executive director, said sales largely stayed flat during the peak of the recession in 2008 and 2009, but picked up since.

"Our biggest factor is gas prices," he said. "If people go to a gas station and put 80 bucks of gas in their car, they're not feeling happy to buy a lottery ticket."

___

RIG-PROOF LOTTERY?

It's conceivable you could win Wednesday night's drawing, just not the right one.

In addition to the official one televised nationally from Tallahassee, Fla., there are four practice runs.

The reason, Strutt says, is to make sure the machines are running properly and the numbers are being distributed properly. The balls used in the game are regularly measured, weighed and X-rayed. Then they're locked up in a room that's under 24/7 surveillance. Only the organizers and their auditors have a key.

___

IS IT A GOOD INVESTMENT?

You already know the answer to that. Yet people play anyway.

Strutt is estimating that there will be $214 million in sales for Wednesday's drawing (up from $140 million from Saturday'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.

Barrow says it's no secret that it's not a prudent investment to regularly buy lottery tickets, but contends it's a little more defensible as the amount skyrockets.

If the jackpot amount approached $600 million, and if you had the means to buy enough tickets until you won, AND if you could guarantee you wouldn't have to share with anyone, then it might be a wise investment.

That's a lot of ifs, Barrow says. But he'll likely join the throngs of ticket buyers.

"For 2 bucks, it's worth a chance," he said. "What else am I going to do with that $2? I'll just waste it on something else."

Also on HuffPost:

Loading Slideshow...
  • Woman's Friend Steals Winning Scratch-Off

    A South Carolina woman's luck stopped short after she told a few friends about her winning $500 ticket. Willie Jones, a friend of the winner, was <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/19/south-carolina-stolen-lottery-ticket_n_1686630.html" target="_hplink">charged with stealing her ticket</a>.

  • Man Wins Lotto, Bails Himself Out Of Jail

    After John Ross Jr. won a 'Set For Life' scratch off game, he was looking forward to turning his life around. However, Ross soon <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/12/john-ross-california-lott_n_1590089.html" target="_hplink">found himself behind bars</a> after he allegedly helped a woman hide and repair a stolen car.

  • Woman 'Hides' Winning Ticket At McDonald's

    Mirlande Wilson, a McDonald's employee in Baltimore, claimed she <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/02/mirlande-wilson-maryland-mcdonalds-worker_n_1396943.html" target="_hplink">had won the record-high $656 million Mega Millions jackpot </a>and that she <a href="http://www.nypost.com/p/news/local/what_mega_mess_wHA9HVdfxA1VDSqWn58KtJ" target="_hplink">was not going to share her winnings</a> with co-workers, who alleged that Wilson was a part of a workplace lottery pool. Wilson announced that she had <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/04/marlinde-wilson-mega-millions-winner-ticket-mcdonalds_n_1402892.html" target="_hplink">hid the winning ticket at a McDonald's</a> and subsequently <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/06/mirlande-wilson-mega-millions-mcdonalds_n_1408105.html" target="_hplink">claimed to have lost the ticket</a>. In the end, it was revealed<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/10/maryland-mega-millions-winner_n_1414857.html" target="_hplink"> Wilson never even had the winning ticket</a>.

  • Geniuses Outsmart Massachusetts Cash WinFall

    A group including MIT undergraduates and a biomedical researcher <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/02/massachusetts-cash-winfall-lottery_n_1729416.html" target="_hplink">discovered a loophole in the Cash WinFall game</a> that netted them nearly $48 million. Apparently, lottery officials knew about the scam since at least 2010, but did nothing about it because it generated $16 million in revenue for the state.

  • Lotto Winner Found Million Dollar Ticket While Cleaning Out Desk

    Retired hospice chaplain Ron Yurcus <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/15/ron-yurcus-glen-ellyn-lot_n_2139308.html">stumbled across a million-dollar miracle when he found a winning lottery ticket while cleaning out his desk</a> in November 2012. He had purchased the Powerball ticket from a BP gas station two months earlier.

  • Controversy Over Record Mega Millions Jackpot

    After <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/06/mirlande-wilson-mega-millions-mcdonalds_n_1408105.html" target="_hplink">McDonald's employee Mirlande Wilson</a> falsely claimed she won Mega Millions' record $656 million jackpot, three <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/10/maryland-mega-millions-winner_n_1414857.html?ref=money#s785675&title=Undocumented_Immigrant_Awarded" target="_hplink">Maryland school teachers</a> stepped forward to claim their share of the prize.

  • New York Brothers Charged With Scamming $5 Million Lottery Ticket

    Two brothers from central New York who <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/13/andy-and-nayel-ashkar-lottery-scam_n_2123886.html">claimed a $5 million lottery ticket sold at their family's store were accused in November 2012 of scamming the winning ticket from a customer.</a> Andy Ashkar, 34, and Nayel Ashkar, 36, are charged with second-degree attempted grand larceny and fourth-degree conspiracy.

  • Chicago Man Wins New Jersey Lottery While Cleaning Up After Hurricane Sandy

    John Turner, a 38-year-old Chicago man, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/11/john-turner-wins-lottery-_n_2105194.html">bought a winning $100,000 lottery ticket </a>after coming to New Jersey to help clean up after Hurricane Sandy. Turner runs National Catastrophe Solutions of Chicago, a local water removal business.

  • Homeless Man Wins $200,000 Lottery Prize

    A homeless man in Greenville, S.C. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/19/homeless-man-wins-lottery-greenville_n_1989771.html">won $200,000 from a scratch-off lottery game</a> in October 2012.

  • Teen Cancer Survivor Wins Mega Millions Lottery

    Nicholas Ruth, a 19-year-old cancer survivor, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/26/nicholas-ruth-teen-cancer-survivor-mega-millions-lottery-video_n_1916132.html">matched five of the six numbers in the state's Mega Millions lottery</a>, earning himself a second-tier prize of $250,000 in September 2012. After taxes, Ruth will have about $165,000 to spend and plans to donate some of his money back to the organizations that helped him with his leukemia.

  • Friends Win Mega Millions Jackpot After Playing Together For 25 Years

    Willie McPherson, 74, and Christopher Manzi, 44, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/06/mcpherson-manzi-mega-millions-lottery-25-years_n_1944181.html#slide=757174">won a $14 million jackpot in September 2012 </a>after playing the Mega Millions lottery together for 25 years, according to the New York Post. The two had been buying lottery tickets together after becoming friends while working at Manzi’s print shop in Manhattan.

  • Clerk Steals Winning Ticket From Great-Grandma

    A store clerk in England tried to turn in 77-year-old Maureen Holt's winning lottery ticket himself after <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/02/lottery-ticket-stolen-from-great-grandmother_n_1733871.html" target="_hplink">telling her it was a losing ticket</a>.

  • Teen Finds Ticket In Messy Bedroom

    Ryan Kitching, a Scottish teenager,<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/04/ryan-kitching-teenage-winning-lottery-tickert-clean-room_n_1319413.html" target="_hplink"> found a winning lottery ticket hiding in his bedroom</a> after his mother told him to clean his room. The ticket is worth more than $80,000.

  • Chicago Couple Keeping Millions Secret

    One Chicago couple won <a href="http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2011-11-06/news/ct-met-anonymous-lottery-20111106_1_lottery-winners-illinois-lottery-lottery-jackpot" target="_hplink">$30 million in the Illinois lottery</a>, but didn't even tell their kids, according to the <em>Chicago Tribune</em>.

  • Connecticut Money Managers Win Big Jackpot

    Greg Skidmore, Brandon Lacoff and Tim Davidson, who work at an asset management firm in Greenwich, one of the most affluent towns in America, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/29/254-million-jackpot-connecticut-money-managers_n_1119321.html">came forward as lottery winners in 2011</a>. Their lawyer said they formed a trust to manage the money after Davidson bought the $1 winning ticket at a Stamford gas station.

  • Lotto Winner Continued To Collect Food Stamps

    Amanda Clayton, 24-year-old from the Detroit-area,<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/08/amanda-clayton-michigan-lottery-food-assistance-stamps_n_1330716.html" target="_blank"> continued collecting $200 in government food assistance</a> after she won a $1 million lotto prize.

  • Undocumented Immigrant Awarded Lotto Prize After Lawsuit

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/09/jose-antonio-cua-toc-undocumented-immigrant-lottery-ticket_n_1334564.html" target="_hplink">Jose Antonio Cua-Toc, a foreign national from Guatemala,</a> sued his former boss to reclaim his lotto money, which he had given to his employer out of fear of being exposed as an undocumented immigrant. Cua-Toc won the lawsuit.

  • Iowa Lottery Winner Claims $16.5 Million Prize At Last Minute

    The winner of an <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/30/iowa-lottery-winner-last-minute_n_1176971.html">Iowa Lottery ticket in 2011 </a>valued at $16.5 million waited until two hours before the deadline to claim the prize. The ticket was purchased nearly one year ago.

  • Winning $80K Lottery Ticket Donated To Burglarized Georgia Church

    In 2011, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/03/winning-80k-lottery-ticke_n_947272.html">an anonymous donor stepped in to help a Georgia church that was burglarized with a winning $80,000</a> lottery ticket the Associated Press reports.