The Powerball jackpot has reached an estimated record high of $1.6 billion, leading longtime players and first-timers alike to flock to buy tickets ahead of Saturday night's drawing.
At Woodman's Markets in Madison, sisters Christy Bemis and Cherrie Spencer were among the dozens of weekend shoppers who paid for their groceries and loaded up carts before joining the line at the lottery counter to purchase their shot at the prize.
They said they almost never buy lottery tickets, but they were lured in by the size of the jackpot.
"My $2 has just as good a chance of winning as anyone else's $2," said Spencer.
The counter was one of the busiest areas of the supermarket — so busy that employees set up stanchions to guide the queue. Like most of the players in line, Jim Olson, 78, was buying Quick Picks, randomly generated Powerball numbers, but he doesn't always.
Olson said he has typically bought a Powerball ticket once every drawing “virtually since they started.” When he picks his own numbers, 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 speaks to the extremely long odds of winning the jackpot — about 1 in 292.2 million.
Still, the chance of pocketing $782.4 million (the value of the cash option before taxes) has been enough to bring people flooding 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 a 30-year term, might be a safer bet.
If she were to win the jackpot, Bemis said she would "buy a house up north. Somewhere by a lake."
Across town, Djuan Davis was manning the lottery counter at Pick 'n Save on Saturday morning, taking cash and handing out tickets. "Typically there’s a lot of sales on Saturdays," he said.
With a record-breaking jackpot, business has picked up. Davis said he's also seen a recent increase in players purchasing tickets online.
As customers arrived at the counter, Davis would ask how he could help them. Almost every one answered the same: Powerball tickets.
"Every time, it’s always that one," Davis said.
It was Arpad Jakab's first time buying Powerball tickets. As 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 jackpot.
"It was just really high," said Jakab. "Might as well join the insanity."
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