Mega Millions buyers dreaming of a holiday jackpot

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Those in need of some extra spending cash this holiday season, and even those who weren’t, were lining up to buy Mega Millions lottery tickets on Tuesday at local stores and restaurants. For only $1, everyone had a one-in-259 million chance at a near-record $636 million jackpot.


Dressed in a navy blue Pittsburgh Penguins T-shirt, Darryl Keller of the South Hills already had an idea of life as a millionaire if any of his combinations hit.


“I’d play hockey and enjoy it,” he said after buying a ticket at TJ’s Deli Mart in North Strabane Township.


TJ’s sold a Cash 5 ticket in October that won a lucky customer $1 million. Store manager Maryann Goodwill said the giant check with the convenience store’s take of the winnings arrived Monday and will be proudly displayed above the store’s front counter. Alex Sader, a clerk at TJ’s, said the lines have been growing on pace with the dollar amount.


“At 6 or around dinner time, the line will be out the door,” he said Tuesday afternoon. “For $600-some million, yeah, why not buy a ticket?”


Regulars were buying more tickets than usual, and a slew of new customers started asking for numbers in the last few days.


No one has won a Mega Millions jackpot since Oct. 21. Heavy ticket sales inflated the Tuesday night jackpot to the second-largest dollar amount in Mega Millions history, only $20 million short of the record, and the second-largest jackpot ever in North America.


As of noon Tuesday, tickets were selling at a rate of nearly 12,000 per minute across the state, according to a Pennsylvania Lottery news release. Area stores saw the number of players significantly increase in the last two days.


Linda Wolfe, who works at Popcorn Willy on Main Street in Washington, said the regular lunch crowd was buying tickets Tuesday even if they regularly did not.


“Everybody’s buying them, even if they don’t know what they’re actually buying,” she said.


At the Beau Mart in South Strabane Township, owner Susan Angelini said sales were about 10 times higher than normal Monday. In fact, one man purchased $460 worth tickets for a group of players at his office. She expected to sell even more before the drawing on Tuesday night.


“I think people want to see a little store like us win,” she said. “We’re sort of unique, we’re just a little mom-and-pop store, and I think people want to see a winner here.”


Carol McBride stopped in the Beau Mart to purchase her regular Mega Millions ticket, opting for random numbers after forgetting her card with her regular numbers jotted down at home. She hoped to give back if any of her combinations won.


“First, I’d take care of my family and friends,” she said. “I’m also a big animal advocate, so I’d like to help out local shelters.”


Recent changes to Mega Millions, including larger starting jackpots, a million-dollar second prize and a larger pool of numbers, now ranging from 1 to 75, helped increase ticket sales and raise the jackpot amount at a rapid rate.


“While it is true that odds of winning the jackpot are more challenging in the new game, the odds of winning any prize are, overall, now significantly better,” said Gary Miller, director of public relations for the Pennsylvania Lottery.


While a jackpot ticket had yet to be sold, players across Pennsylvania have won more than $5.5 million in nonjackpot prizes during this run. Players hoped to take home a lump sum of $341.2 million before taxes, while JT’s, Popcorn Willy and the Beau Mart all hoped to be the lucky shop to sell the winning ticket and win a few dollars.


“I think I’ll just wait and see what happens,” Angelini said before waiting on another Beau Mart customer in the market for Mega Millions tickets.


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