The money move

With millions at stake, both sides of Potomac see high Big Game interest

Journal staff writers

Roger Spiegel had never bought a lottery ticket in his life. But his more than 50-year streak of lotto abstinence ended yesterday afternoon, when the Alexandria, Va., resident plunked down $3 at an Old Town convenience store for his chance at $220million.

“I don’t know what I would do with the money,” Spiegel mused, as he stared at a slip of paper containing his chance at an instant fortune. “That much money would probably cause a lot of problems, wouldn’t it?”

Problems or not, lottery fever is gripping Virginia and Maryland, as tonight’s jackpot for the seven-state Big Game soared to a new record.

As of yesterday evening, the prize for correctly picking five numbers between 1 and 50 and a “Big Money Ball” between 1 and 36 was $220 million, although frenzied ticket sales could push the total even higher.

People with a dollar (or more) and a dream poured into gas stations, grocery stores and restaurants to try their luck against odds of 1 in 76.3 million. Retailers reported some customers buying $100 or more worth of tickets.

At Buffalo Wings and Beer, a top lottery ticket vendor in Gaithersburg, waitress Linda Blankenship said the massive jackpot has brought in a whole new horde of players.

“It’s [normally] busy because of Keno, but yesterday was crazy,” said Blankenship of the Wednesday rush to buy tickets. “People off the streets just came in and they didn’t want anything else” but lottery tickets.

“Sales are much higher than they would normally be,” confirmed Edward A. Scarborough, a Virginia lottery spokesman. “Right now, sales are about 20 times more than when the jackpot is about $5million.”

Anticipating a crush of out-of-state ticket buyers from North Carolina and Tennessee, Virgina officials have enlisted the help of state police and local law enforcement agencies to move traffic and keep the peace, Scarborough said.

He warned that lottery players throughout Virginia should anticipate long lines should they try to buy tickets this afternoon or evening.

Overall, lottery outlets in Virginia, Maryland and the five other Big Game states – Georgia, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan and New Jersey – are expected to sell $100million tickets before tonight’s 11 p.m. drawing. Sales are cut off at 10:45 p.m.

Tonight’s jackpot already has exceeded the Big Game’s previous top prize of $197 million, set last year. The American lottery record was established in 1998, when 13 construction workers in Westerville, Ohio, pooled their money and split $300 million in the multistate Powerball drawing.

Not that $220 million is anything to sneeze at. In the hopes of maximizing his luck, Alexandria truck driver Ray Daugherty was buying $1 or $2 worth of tickets at several stores along his route as a wine delivery driver.

“A lot of time the winner will be from one of these small convenience stores that no one knows about,” said Daugherty, who figures he’ll spend about $40 on tickets by the close of business today.

And if he won?

“I’d quit work, that would be the first thing,” he said. On second thought, I’d probably drop dead of a heart attack if I found out I’d won.”

In Maryland, Germantown resident David Cool instantly bought two tickets after being told of the $220 million jackpot.

“The odds may be one in a billion,” he said, “but somebody has to win.”