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Long odds don't bother 'Mega' fans

Mar 6, 2007, 7:54 am

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Mega Millions

Charles Millard wasn't under any illusion.

"My chance is a zillion to one," the 60-year-old Johnson City man said on Monday as he bought a ticket for tonight's historic $355 million Mega Millions drawing.

Still, across the Greater Binghamton region, players such as Millard lined up Monday at convenience stores and newsstands for a chance to win the largest pot in New York Lottery history, even though they acknowledged their odds were as long as Binghamton being named the sunshine capital of the Northeast.

The multi-state lottery jackpot ballooned to the largest ever offered by the New York Lottery after no one won the top prize in Friday's drawing. The prize could go higher by today's drawing, said Susan Miller, a lottery spokeswoman.

The previous top pot for Mega Millions was $315 million in November 2005. Seven people in California won that prize.

"Friday was phenomenal. It was crazy all day long. I can't imagine what it's going to be like tomorrow," said Diane Beers, manager at Xtra Mart, 120 Baldwin St., Johnson City.

"When you get over $200 million, you see a lot more people who don't normally buy tickets. I'm one of them," Beers added.

As of Friday, sales had reached $77 million in New York state alone, Miller said. Eleven other states are also involved in the game, with each paying a share of the jackpot based on their sales. Interest is high enough that lottery officials in all 12 states agreed Monday to move the drawing from a studio in Atlanta, Ga., to Times Square in New York City.

Players gave a series of reasons for buying tickets.

"So I can live on easy street," said Jerry Fallon, 66, of Binghamton, as he purchased a ticket at Cavanaugh Grocery & Deli, 69 Leroy St., Binghamton.

"We all want to retire," explained Jen Zurenda, 34, of Johnson City, as she brought tickets at the Baldwin Street Xtra Mart for herself and her co-workers.

"I want to go to Disneyland," said Christine Blair, 41, of Binghamton, as she took a chance at the Xtra Mart at 227 Court St., Binghamton.

Some people, such as Kay Hopkins, 50, of Johnson City, had a system in picking the five numbers from a field of one to 56, plus one mega ball number from a separate field of one to 46. Hopkins picked her children's birthdays as her numbers. But others just depended on quick pick numbers from the lottery.

Sales from the Mega Millions game had generated $32 million in revenue for schools statewide through last Friday, Miller said. The money will be distributed as part of the overall state aid package of some $19 billion.

Demand at his store is different from years ago when the number of lottery dealers was smaller, meaning people would be lined up outside the door waiting to buy tickets, said Robert Cavanaugh, owner of Cavanaugh Grocery. But sales for this Mega Millions game have been extremely high, he said.

Some people are waiting until the last minute because they think doing so brings them luck, he said.

But no one questioned Monday had booked a trip to Acapulco, put a down payment on a Rolls Royce or quit their jobs. In other words, they weren't really counting on winning.

"My chances are really zero," said Carmine Esposito, 47, of Han . But, he added with a smile: "You've got to give it a shot."

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