Never mind the statistics and grim improbabilities.

A record-breaking $1.5 billion Powerball jackpot that's driving a national frenzy is all about dreams, not cold, harsh reality.

Talk to a statistician or mathematician in search of secrets to increase your odds of becoming the next Powerball multimillionaire and you'll likely feel sheepish as you plunk down $2 for the almost unfathomable jackpot, with the numbers to be drawn at 9:59 p.m. There's just little you can do to increase your odds, except maybe choose numbers that others won't choose so you don't have to share the winnings, said University of Minnesota mathematician Doug Arnold.

Forget "lucky seven" numbers or special dates that likely are as special to someone else as to you, he said. "I think 13 isn't chosen as often."

The Powerball picked in last Saturday's drawing was 13.

"I think 110 people won a lottery, not the top prize but something less, by using numbers on a fortune cookie," he said. But mostly it's random and you might as well have a computer generate the numbers, he said.

In general, more than 80 percent of Minnesota lottery players leave it up the computer to make their picks. That number rises along with the jackpot.

Tickets must be purchased by 9 p.m. Wednesday to be eligible for Wednesday night's drawing. To win, a player will have to match the five numbers plus the Powerball among 292.2 million possible combinations.

That's an incredible long shot, so Arnold, being a numbers man, isn't about to buy a lottery ticket. "If you analyze it enough, it's not so much fun. You'll pay your $2 and it's guaranteed that you will have nothing."

"The likely chance of dying by any cause in the next 30 seconds is higher than winning the Powerball," he said. "Certainly if you have to get in a car and drive to buy a Powerball ticket and drive back home, your chance of dying in a car accident is greater than winning the jackpot."

But even Arnold acknowledge the draw to the lottery is more like the lure of a roller coaster. "You don't get anywhere on a roller coaster. But you might buy a ticket for a roller coaster because may enjoy the ride."

The Powerball is just plain cheap entertainment, said Doug Hartmann, professor of sociology at the University of Minnesota.

"When the Powerball gets big like this, ... it's the sense of being part of a larger story that becomes way more important," said Doug Hartmann, professor of sociology at the University of Minnesota. "It's the collective experience of dreaming and fantasizing. ... It's less about the big money and more about the power of doing this with a lot of other people."

So, people who normally don't play the lottery are lining up at gas stations and convenience stores, Hartmann said.

"Part of it could be the hope for the absolutely spectacular, unimaginable money," he said. "But a lot of it is to be part of this big phenomenon. ... It about being part of the office pool or the family where you get a ticket or two and everybody talks about it over dinner."

"The lottery promotions talk about it tongue-in-cheek, but they really are selling dreams, not really selling the chance to make money."

The jackpot is worth $930 million if a winner chooses an immediate cash payout instead of annual payments over 29 years, according to the Multi-State Lottery Association. The Powerball jackpot has been growing since the last winner was drawn in November.

Sales in Minnesota for last Saturday's drawing topped $13.1 million, breaking the previous record of $10.8 million, set on Nov. 28, 2012 for a $587 million jackpot. And while no one won the mother of all jackpots, Saturday's drawing produced 263,866 winning tickets in Minnesota, totaling $1.8 million in prizes, including one worth $150,000 and 10 worth $50,000, for matching some of the numbers.

Powerball ticket sales in Wisconsin last week - for both of the weekly drawings - totaled more than $21.7 million. Over the past few months, sales generally have been between $950,000 and $3.5 million per week, the Wisconsin Lottery reported. The state record is $22.3 million in weekly sales, set in August 2001 for a $295 million jackpot.

There were nine $50,000 winners in Wisconsin from last Saturday's drawing.

Wednesday's jackpot is estimated to be $1.5 billion but could be even higher because sales generally pick up the closer it gets to the drawing, said Debbie Hoffmann, Minnesota lottery spokeswoman.

As a sociologist, Hartmann can't but look at the big societal picture when talking about the lottery craze. "It is clear that poor people play lotteries and invest more of their money per capita in lotteries than people who are richer," he said. "So there are things to think about."

It's why lottery critics think of it as a regressive tax because it raises a lot of money for some states from people who are the least well off, Hartmann said. "Those are the moral questions."

But even for those of modest means, a couple bucks is a cheap escape from the realities and pressures of daily life, Hartmann said. "It's a lot cheaper than going on a cruise vacation."

And it brings people together. Even Hartmann may be lured into buying a ticket by his persuasive 18-year-old daughter.

"It will be a father-daughter bonding experience," he said.

 

The News Tribune and Reuters contributed to this report.