Rising Mega Millions jackpot feeds lottery frenzy in Chattanooga area

Rising Mega Millions jackpot feeds lottery frenzy in Chattanooga area

December 17th, 2013 by Kate Harrison Belz in Local Regional News

Pavan Patel holds Mega Million chances he sold Monday at the Shiv Food Mart on Signal Mountain Boulevard. "We have sold 140 of these this morning," Patel said.

Photo by Tim Barber/Times Free Press.

TOP JACKPOTS

The Mega Millions jackpot jumped Monday to $586 million after Friday's drawing produced no winning ticket. The jackpot now is the second largest in Mega Millions history and fourth biggest overall in U.S. history. Here's a look at the top 5 record lottery jackpots in U.S. history.

• 1. $656.0 million, Mega Millions, March 30, 2012 (3 tickets from Kansas, Illinois and Maryland)

• 2. $590.5 million, Powerball, May 18, 2013 (1 ticket from Florida)

• 3. $587.5 million, Powerball, Nov. 28, 2012 (2 tickets from Arizona and Missouri)

• 4. Estimated $586 million, Mega Millions, (next drawing scheduled today; jackpot could grow)

• 5. $448.4 million, Powerball, Aug. 7, 2013 (3 tickets from Minnesota and New Jersey)

Source: The Associated Press

POLL: Will you buy a Mega Millions lottery ticket?

Odds of winning Mega Millions jackpot

Photo by Laura McNutt/Times Free Press.

Blame it on holiday cheer, New Year's optimism, or too much eggnog. No matter how unlikely the odds, hope springs eternal at gas stations and stores across the tri-state region today as scores of people line up to buy Mega Millions lottery tickets.

Managers will double the amount of workers they have scheduled for tonight's rush-hour shift, and they will brace themselves for long lines of people hoping that maybe -- just maybe -- a dollar can turn into hundreds of millions by the end of the day.

As the Mega Millions jackpot grows, more people buy tickets. The jackpot is already one of the largest in U.S. history. The next drawing is tonight.

Rebecca Johnson, manager of the Mr. Zip on Frazier Avenue, says the buying craze will reach its height in the hours before the drawing.

"People believe their chances will be better the day of [the drawing], or later in the day," Johnson said. "People start dreaming big. Our usual $5-a-week customers will buy $25 worth. We'll have plenty of people we never see."

After no ticket matched all six numbers to win the top Mega Millions prize on Friday, officials raised the amount to $586 million for tonight's drawing. That now ranks as the second-largest Mega Millions jackpot and fourth-biggest U.S. jackpot ever. And it could grow more before the winning numbers are revealed.

Paula Otto, the Virginia Lottery's executive director and Mega Millions' lead director, told The Associated Press she expects the amount to rise even higher before the drawing. It could approach or surpass the largest Mega Millions jackpot ever claimed, $656 million in March 2012.

"We've never had a jackpot at this level in December leading into the holidays," Otto said. "If we keep rolling, we could well be at a billion dollars going into Christmas."

But each time the lottery fails to produce a jackpot, as it has 21 straight times on this run, the pot gets even larger.

And in the Chattanooga area, there are plenty of hopefuls.

Some of the things locals said they would buy with the jackpot included everything from paying off debts to making donations to the YMCA and buying an island. One woman said it was "too much money to even imagine knowing what to do with."

And everyone has their system for buying whatever luck they can.

"There's a truck driver who comes in here who will buy a few here, then a few in Tennessee, then North Carolina. Every day," said Donna Lee, assistant manager at the Mega Star Food Mart in Ft. Oglethorpe.

Trish Armstrong, manager at the Mr. Zip on Gunbarrel Road in Chattanooga, said businesses near the gas station have been holding office pools and buying dozens of tickets at once.

Pavan Patel, left, sells 10 Mega Million quick pick chances to Dottie Brewer on Monday at the Shiv Food Mart at 631 Signal Mountain Boulevard Monday morning. "My husband is going to a different store in case this isn't the lucky store," Brewer said.

Photo by Tim Barber/Times Free Press.

And there are the more superstitious.

"We have people who will always play the same number religiously," said Armstrong. "It may be their kid's birthday, anniversary, just some numbers that they've decided will be their favorites."

The vast majority of people opt to have a computer select their "quick picks," Johnson said. But there are those that "add Great-Aunt Gertrude's birthday at the end for the heck of it. Really, it's the same odds," she said.

And the odds are getting worse all the time. On Monday, they were 1 in 259 million.

The odds of dying from being struck by lightning are 1 in 3 million; the chances of dying from a bee sting are 1 in 6 million; the chance of being attacked by a shark is 1 in nearly 12 million; and the chance of a golfer hitting two holes-in-one on consecutive par-3 holes is about 1 in 156 million, according to a list compiled by CNN.

Many local lottery ticket buyers acknowledged Monday they were fully aware the odds were overwhelmingly against them.

"I'd be luckier to be the first one to find the Titanic, which has already been found," said Eddie Bolin of Ringgold, who bought a ticket at the Kangaroo on Cloud Springs Road in Ft. Oglethorpe. "I've already had to make my living the hard way."

But, like other locals, Bolin said he'd shell out a dollar because of the premise -- however faint -- that somebody has to win.

"You never know," he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Contact staff writer Kate Harrison at kharrison @timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6673.