$150m prize in US lottery

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AMERICA is a gambling nation. But its love affair with chance and money is reaching fever pitch as it prepares for the largest lottery prize in the nation's history.

The jackpot for the Powerball lottery, which operates in the District of Columbia and 20 states across the country, could reach $150m (pounds 95m) in Wednesday's draw, as a $115m jackpot from Saturday is rolled over. While not the biggest lottery in the world - Spain's El Gordo hit a jackpot of $270m last year - it is enough to tempt even the virtuous and the cautious, and nearly $40m worth of tickets were sold at the weekend as punters scrambled to get a piece of the action.

Powerball is similar to Britain's National Lottery. Tickets cost $1 and players try to match five numbers from a pool of 49, as well as a "Powerball" number from a series of 42. The odds of winning are one in 80 million, but that doesn't deter players.

"Hey, you know, this is just meant to be fun and entertaining," says the Iowa state lottery spokesman Joe Hrdlicka.

Who is he kidding? Gambling is very big business in the US. Last year, Americans spent about $560bn on lotteries, casinos and racetracks; lotteries made about $12bn profits - more than either of those other purveyors of the American dream, Microsoft and Disney.