MADISON, Wis. (AP) – The Powerball jackpot has reached an estimated record high of $1.6 billion, prompting longtime players and newcomers alike to flock to buy tickets ahead of Saturday night’s drawing.
At Woodman’s Markets in Madison, Wis., sisters Christy Bemis and Cherrie Spencer were among dozens of weekend shoppers paying for their groceries and loading carts before lining up at the lottery counter to buy their shot at the prize.
They said they hardly ever buy lottery tickets, but were lured in by the size of the jackpot.
“My $2 has as good a chance of winning as anyone else’s $2,” Spencer said.
The counter was one of the busiest areas in the supermarket – so busy that staff set up bollards to guide the queue. Like most of the players in line, Jim Olson, 78, bought Quick Picks, randomly generated Powerball numbers, but he doesn’t always do that.
Olson said he has typically bought a Powerball ticket once for each drawing “pretty much since they started.” When he picks his own tracks, there’s no rhyme or reason to how he does it: “They just come to you. I can’t explain it.”
Olson’s biggest win to date? $300 about 20 years ago, he said.
It talks about the extremely long odds of winning the jackpot – about 1 in 292.2 million.
Still, the chance to cash in $782.4 million (the value of the cash option before taxes) has been enough to make people flood across state lines for a chance to play. Winners of massive jackpots almost always choose cash, but some financial experts say the annuity option, which pays out over a 30-year period, may be a safer bet.
Many players do what they can to try to tip the odds in their favor. Unlike the weekend shoppers in Madison, not everyone buys their tickets at the most convenient location.
In Los Angeles, a liquor store known for producing several winning tickets over the years is giving superstitious gamblers hope that they could be the next to strike it rich.
Hector Solis, 35, has been coming to Bluebird Liquor to buy lottery tickets ever since he was a kid tagging along with his parents. “”Bluebird is, you know, pretty much a hotspot that we know about,” he said.
On Saturday, Solis bought $140 worth of tickets on behalf of a group of 27 colleagues. 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 buy his tickets. An experienced drug and alcohol counselor, Adams said he believes in giving back. If he were to win, he said he would give some of the money to his favorite charity for homeless and incarcerated people. “I wanted to 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 used Bluebird Liquors’ long lines as a platform to petition against high oil and gas prices — an issue she hopes to see on a California referendum. She was outside the liquor store for 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 lottery counter at Pick ‘n Save Saturday morning, taking cash and handing out tickets to several weekend shoppers. “There’s typically a lot of sales on Saturdays,” he said.
With a record-breaking jackpot, business has picked up. Davis said he has also seen a recent increase in players buying tickets online.
When customers arrived at the counter, Davis asked how he could help them. Almost everyone answered the same thing: Powerball tickets.
“Every time, it’s always the one,” Davis said.
It was the first time Arpad Jakab bought Powerball tickets. When Davis sold him four Quick Pick tickets, Jakab, a retired utility worker, said he probably wouldn’t buy them again unless there was another record-breaking jackpot.
“It was just really loud,” Jakab said. “Might as well join the insanity.”