BEIJING — Powerball fever reached China on Wednesday as wannabe billionaires rushed to buy tickets from online entrepreneurs.
A handful of U.S-based sellers on popular Chinese e-commerce site Taobao were offering $2 tickets for around 20-30 yuan ($3-$4.60) each.
Buyers were advised to send the numbers they wanted for Wednesday's $1.5 billion draw and told photos of their tickets would be emailed back to China.
The sellers' histories suggested only a few thousand had been sold and Taobao seemed to have taken notice and started removing some of their profiles.
One Powerball ticket seller, who claimed to be studying in the U.S. but declined to give his name, told NBC News that he had sold 600 tickets in three days.
“Before I only knew Americans who wanted to buy Powerball tickets, but I started to sell lottery tickets a few days ago because the huge prize money has made more and more Chinese people notice Powerball," he said. "I think I can make some money from this. I charge 25 yuan ($3.80) per ticket and I will charge a 10 percent service fee if the buyers win the big pot."
Dong Peng and Che Qinfang, two friends who have been on Taobao for five years, said the Powerball craze was now stretching across the Pacific Ocean.
“Some of my friends asked us to help them to buy tickets because we have an online store and they think we can handle this for them quickly,” said Che, a New Jersey-based fashion designer who had sold about 30 tickets.
Another person who appeared to have sold 890 tickets on Taobao — and whose profile stated she was a student at Missouri State University — declined to comment on her business.
There's one big question facing every seller: If someone in China does get lucky and hit the jackpot, how do they get the $1.5 billion to them?
“If the customers win a prize below $100, we will collect the money and transfer the money to them electronically through Alipay,” Dong said. “If they win the super prize, I think we should negotiate how we can get the money to them. It is not safe to help them to collect so much money in that situation and we suggest that customers should hire a lawyer or financial consultant to get more professional advice if this really happens.”
The world-record Powerball jackpot comes just days after China’s own lottery revealed its biggest unclaimed lottery prize.
China’s Southern Metropolis News reported that a winning ticket was purchased on November 10 for the city of Dongguan’s China Welfare Lottery but the buyer did not collect the prize by the Sunday deadline.
That record-breaking sum? Just $3.9 million.