OMAHA (AP) -- Nestled this year among the wrapped boxes of sweaters, neckties and toys typically found under the Christmas tree could be an unexpected gift: a lottery ticket worth nearly $300 million.
A drawing for the multi-state Powerball lottery will take place Christmas night. Since no one picked the winning numbers Saturday, the prize goes to an estimated $280 million -- Powerball's third-largest jackpot and its largest Christmas Day jackpot since its start in 1992.
Figuring deductions for a lump-sum cash option and taxes, a single winner of the Christmas Day jackpot would receive about $92 million.
That kind of money could buy 920,000 Charter Club cashmere hooded sweaters at Macy's, 681,481 Brioni silk ties at Neiman Marcus or 4.6 million Rapunzel Barbie dolls at Toys ''R'' Us.
The jackpot amounts are driven by ticket sales, so it's impossible to predict exactly how much the jackpot will be by Christmas Day, said Nebraska Lottery spokesman Brian Rockey. But from Wednesday to Saturday, the jackpot grew by $54.5 million to $217.8 million.
''It would certainly make for a jolly Christmas,'' Rockey said.
In Nebraska, sales could be boosted by a Christmas advertising campaign that promises a complimentary holiday card and envelope to put under the tree.
for those who buy $10 or more in Nebraska lottery tickets. The ads market lottery tickets as ''great gifts for the holidays.''
''Usually during the holidays, we see sort of a drop off in sales because people are off their normal routines,'' Rockey said.
But the ads coupled with the idea of a multimillion-dollar gift under the tree could boost sales this year, he said.
Typically, scratch tickets are the gift-giver's lottery ticket of choice, Rockey said.
''With the Powerball jackpot growing, that may outweigh the instant-gratification factor of scratch tickets,'' he said.
At least one other state is pushing lottery tickets for Christmas. Lottery officials in Pennsylvania, which joined the Powerball lottery in June, are running a holiday-themed television commercial with singer Ray Charles promoting Powerball.
West Virginia is taking a different approach. Instead of promoting the ever-growing jackpot, lottery officials there are running television ads urging players not to overspend on tickets.
''It only takes a dollar,'' West Virginia Lottery spokeswoman Libby White said.
The jackpot is harder than ever to win, since the pool of numbers drawn increased by four in October when South Carolina joined as the 24th state to sell Powerball tickets. Players pick five numbers out of a pool of 53 for the first five numbers in the game and another number -- the Powerball -- from a pool of 42. Tickets cost $1 each, and the odds of winning are about one in 120 million.
If a winning ticket is drawn Dec. 25, it would not be the first Christmas Day jackpot.
In 1996, Hugh and Janice Robinson of Hailey, Idaho, were the winners of a $48.3 million Powerball jackpot drawn on Christmas Day. At the time, they opted to keep their jobs as a chauffeur and supermarket clerk and take annual payments of $1.74 million over 20 years.
Robinson declined to comment on his life since then.
''It's taken five years to settle down, and I really don't want to get back in the spotlight again,'' he said.
The highest Powerball jackpot was $295.7 million, won July 29, 1998, by group of factory workers in Ohio. That figure is dwarfed by the highest lottery prize of all -- a $363 million Big Game jackpot, won May 9, 2000, by two players in Illinois and Michigan.
On the Net:
On the Net: Multi-State Lottery Association: http://www.musl.com/
Nebraska Lottery: http://www.nelottery.com/
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