Locals are grabbing up lottery tickets by the fistful after the multistate Mega Millions lottery prize climbed past half a billion dollars on Wednesday, setting a national record.
As of this morning, officials with the lottery in Georgia reported the jackpot is expected to be $540 million.
"I'm going to have to go around and buy tickets everywhere now," said Brenda Smith while purchasing a fresh Mega Millions ticket at the Sunset Market on Battlefield Parkway.
The drawing is set for 11 p.m. EDT Friday.
"Friday will be crazy," Tennessee Lottery President Rebecca Hargrove said.
Andy Chaudhari said it's not uncommon for him to sell 200 of the $1 tickets to a single person at the Stop 'N' Go on Ringgold Road in East Ridge, even when the jackpot is not this high.
"Most people buy $5 worth, easy," said Bhavna Chaudhari, noting that her regulars go from store to store across the state line to buy their tickets.
While a casual gambler might pick up a ticket or two when the payouts are high enough, cashiers said they expect business to increase most from regular players. Amin "Mike" Hirani, owner of Lucky Al's Tobacco Outlet on U.S. Highway 41 in Georgia, recalls customers coming in with cans full of pennies to pay for their tickets.
Tennessee sold nearly 2.3 million tickets for Tuesday's drawing, more than seven times the normal sales amount, Hargrove said.
After Tuesday's drawing, the Georgia Lottery Corp. estimated the value of the jackpot at $476 million. However, that number jumped Wednesday morning to more than $500 million, a new record for Mega Millions and the highest amount for any North American lottery in history, according to a release from the Tennessee Lottery.
"Oh, my God," Bhavna Chaudhari declared when she discovered the updated value and had to change the numbers on her sign by noon, rolling them upward.
Payout money has been accumulating since January, when the Mega Millions drawing last was won by a player in Atlanta. That jackpot was worth $72 million. Since that time, the game has raised $10.5 million in Tennessee alone, more than $4 million of which went toward education.
The previous record for Mega Millions was a $390 million prize won five years ago.
Marleen Abraham participates in a lottery pool with her co-workers at Heritage Health Care, with each person chipping in $5 and splitting as many as 75 tickets. But on Wednesday, she was visiting Sunset Market to pick up a few extra, just for her. She thought about winning and wondered if she'd share with the other pool participants.
"Some of them," she decided.
Back at the Stop 'N' Go, Victor Hanan cashed in a few winning tickets.
"I thought I won a bundle today," he said, but his earnings were only $8.
The Chaudharis explained that Hanan suffers from unluckiness.
"Y'all are killing me," he said, then decided to take his winnings in new tickets.
Bhavna Chaudhari gave him his tickets, and he encouraged her to perform their so-far-not-lucky-enough ritual.
"Winner, winner, chicken dinner!" they exclaimed in unison.
If Hanan's luck doesn't improve, he won't be able to afford a chicken dinner, he joked before heading on his way.