MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The Powerball jackpot has hit an estimated all-time high of $1.6 billion, prompting longtime players and first-timers to flock to buy tickets ahead of Saturday night’s draw.
At Woodman’s Markets in Madison, Wisconsin, sisters Christy Bemis and Cherrie Spencer were among dozens of weekend shoppers who paid for groceries and loaded carts before joining the queue at the lottery counter to buy their chance to win the prize.
They said they hardly ever buy lottery tickets, but were drawn in by the size of the jackpot.
“My $2 is just as likely to win as anyone else’s $2,” Spencer said.
The counter was one of the busiest areas of the supermarket – so busy that employees were setting up stanchions to guide the queue. Like most online gamblers, 78-year-old Jim Olson used to buy Quick Picks, randomly generated Powerball numbers, but he doesn’t always do so.
Olson said he typically buys a Powerball ticket once every drawing “virtually since they started.” When he picks his own numbers, there’s no rhyme or reason to the way he does it: “They just come to you.” I can not explain it.”
Olson’s biggest win to date? $300 about 20 years ago, he says.
This speaks to the extremely long odds of winning the jackpot – around 1 in 292.2 million.
Still, the chance to pocket $782.4 million (the value of the cash option before taxes) was enough to drive people across state lines for a chance to play. Winners of massive jackpots almost always opt for cash, but some financial experts say the annuity option, which is paid out over 30 years, might be a safer bet.
Many players do everything they can to try to tip the scales in their favor. Unlike weekend shoppers in Madison, not everyone buys their tickets in the most convenient location.
In Los Angeles, a liquor store known for churning out multiple winning tickets over the years gives superstitious gamblers hope that they might be next in line to get rich.
Hector Solis, 35, has been coming to Bluebird Liquor to buy lottery tickets since he was a child and following his parents. “‘Bluebird’s, you know, pretty much a hot spot that we know of,'” he said.
On Saturday, Solis purchased $140 worth of tickets on behalf of a group of 27 co-workers. He said he uses specific numbers, like the birthdays of family members he considers particularly lucky.
Al Adams was also at the liquor store to purchase his tickets. An experienced drug and alcohol counselor, Adams said he believes in giving back. If he were to win, he said he would donate some of the money to his favorite homeless and incarcerated charity. “I would use the rest to disappear somewhere,” Adams said. He also warned players to “play responsibly”.
Kianah Bowman had a different message for lottery players. The 24-year-old organizer has used the long queues at Bluebird Liquor as a platform to petition against high oil and gas prices – an issue she hopes will see in a referendum in California. She was outside the liquor store for several days, collecting signatures from hundreds of players.
Bowman also said she plans to buy a few tickets for herself.
Back in Madison, Djuan Davis manned the Pick ‘n Save lottery counter Saturday morning, taking cash and handing out tickets to more weekend shoppers. “Generally, there are a lot of sales on Saturdays,” he said.
With a record jackpot, business picked up. Davis also said he’s seen a recent increase in the number of players buying tickets online.
When customers came to the counter, Davis would ask how he could help them. Almost everyone answered the same thing: Powerball tickets.
“Every time is always the one,” Davis said.
It was the first time that Arpad Jakab bought Powerball tickets. As Davis sold him four Quick Pick tickets, Jakab, a retired utility worker, said he probably wouldn’t buy them back unless there was another record jackpot.
“It was just really high,” Jakab said. “Might as well join the madness.”