MODESTO — First-time buyers, faithful players and everyone in between are getting in on tonight's record Powerball jackpot.
Around Modesto on Thursday, some bought a single ticket and others hundreds all for a chance at winning an estimated $600 million.
Modesto resident Jason Armstrong spent $220 at Jack's Liquors on Oakdale Road and an additional $200 at another location. He and 20 of his co-workers at Gilton Solid Waste Management pooled money and agreed to split it evenly if they win.
That's still almost $30 million apiece before taxes which is more than most people could hope for.
A jackpot of $600 million for one person is almost unfathomable, and lottery officials speculate it willcontinue to soar in the run-up to tonight's drawing.
Enormous jackpots have become almost routine within the past year. In November, the largest Powerball jackpot was recorded at $587.6 million.
But California was left out of that excitement because at the time the state did not participate in the Powerball game.
On April 8, the game arrived in California, and since then, the jackpots have continued rolling.
"California joined and all of a sudden everyone's luck ran out," California Lottery spokesman Alex Traverso joked.
The state's participation has helped fatten the pot faster. On Wednesday alone, the day of the most recent drawing, the state sold $8.7 million worth of Powerball tickets, second only to New York.
Officials say that, with Powerball's $2 tickets, jackpots can rise with fewer tickets sold than in a game such as Mega Millions, which costs only $1 per play.
To win the jackpot, players must match five numbers along with the Powerball number. The odds are long: about 1 in 175 million.
People asked Friday about what they'd do with a piece of $600 million had similar responses: "I haven't even thought about it" or "Who would know what to do with that kind of money?"
But upon further reflection, everyone had priorities, such as buying or paying off a house.
Armstrong, from the Gilton group, said he'd use it to put his three children through college and travel to England and Germany.
Elementary school teacher Sandie Manness said she'd start by paying for the construction of a youth center in her hometown of Hughson, then allocate money to Modesto schools that lost funding recently for after-school programs.
With wife Sandy, Bryan Justin Marks bought 10 tickets because his birthday is Jan. 10 and some energy drinks at the Union 76 station on McHenry Avenue.
"We will definitely do some charity work, but we'd have some fun with (the money) too," Bryan Marks said.
The Markses aren't regular players, unlike the man who was in line in front of them, Jose Sanchez.
Sanchez plays two or three times a month, using the same numbers for about three months, then changing if they aren't paying out.
Whatever the technique of the buyers, Powerball ticket sales were steady Friday around Modesto. Store owners expect a last-minute rush today.
The question now is whether the Powerball jackpot will eclipse the $656 million Mega Millions jackpot from March 2012.
"I think it's going to be really, really close," said Traverso. "Every step of the way, this jackpot seems to have mirrored that jackpot."
He said officials expect about $10 million in California ticket sales Friday. On the Friday of the record-setting Mega Millions draw, he said tickets were selling in California at a pace of $5 million per hour.
"I think what pushes this over the top is that Powerball is a $2 game," Traverso said. "I think we're going to break the record."
Bee staff writer Erin Tracy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2366. Follow her on Twitter @ModestoBeeCrime.