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Powerball fever: Players snatch up tickets

Jan 12, 2016, 10:00 am

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Powerball

Winning the world's biggest-ever lotto jackpot is not about infinitesimally small probabilities. Nor is it about hitting a 1 in 292.2 million chance, the mathematical odds of winning the biggest Powerball prize of all time — now valued at a whopping $1.4 billion.

Talk to some of the countless folks buzzing about the lottery game known as Powerball, and they will tell you winning is all about feeling lucky, along with the escapist pleasure of dreaming how to spend $1 billion and who to share it with.

And now, because no one hit the big prize on Saturday, folks all over the country are preparing for Wednesday's Powerball draw. One of those excited locations was a Fremont 7-Eleven store, which sold one of six tickets that won $779,264 in Powerball's Saturday drawing. The lucky player, who along with five other ticket-holders picked five of six numbers correctly, has not yet come forward.

With no one correctly guessing all six Powerball numbers, the jackpot continues to grow for the next drawing.

"Sales are crazy," said Russ Lopez, California Lottery spokesman. Californians snapped up $12.8 million in Powerball tickets on Sunday through 7 p.m. On Saturday, Powerball-frenzied Californians spent $59.1 million on tickets, the largest single-state chunk of $500.3 million spent nationwide on the game of chance.

And while conventional logic would dictate that lightning doesn't strike twice, luck-logic disagrees. Just ask all the folks dashing into that Fremont store to scoop up a fresh batch of $2 tickets.

"Everybody says, 'I'm feeling lucky,' " 7-Eleven clerk Pushpinder Kaur said Sunday. Customers were plunking down $50 and $200 in cash for Powerball tickets. "They say this is a lucky place."

Maybe it's something akin to rubbing a rabbit's foot? By early evening Sunday, the store had sold $2,000 worth of tickets, owner Ajmer Singh Nijjar said.

While the lines leading up to Saturday's drawing snaked up and down the 7-Eleven's aisles, by Sunday, a slow but steady stream of customers dropped in on Central Avenue near Fremont Boulevard to buy a ticket or two or 20 at that "lucky" location. They came after attending church nearby, on an errand to buy milk or on a sneak break from work. They were first-timers and seasoned lottery players, all in pursuit of fortune.

Jimmy Santos, 65, of Union City, bought 10 tickets that he's pooling with three siblings in other states. Then, for good measure, he bought an extra one just for himself.

If they win, "we are going to buy an island in the Philippines," said Santos. The island will be somewhere near Palawan Island, a southern province, he said, "because I'm a city boy."

The Manila native is not yet quitting his job at a San Francisco hotel. But with happy confidence he said, "We are going to win this time."

Luis Sanchez, 45, of Redwood City, also said if he won he would not quit work as a plumber with a school district. But he would open up an auto parts business. "That way, the money keeps moving around," he said.

Anisa Saleh, of Fremont, was buying her first lottery ticket, prompted by her car breaking down. "I will try," the single mom said simply.

Some players painstakingly picked their six numbers — although statisticians say players have a better chance going with computerized picks.

"I know the odds are ridiculous," said a Newark woman who would give only her first name, Lili. But she believes in exposing herself to luck and that it's California's turn to have a Powerball winner. The game runs in 44 states plus the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Last year, only one of 13 Powerball winners was from the Golden State.

"When I win, I'll give you my name. Good luck to us and good luck to me," she said brightly.

However poor the odds of winning are, "I have as good a chance as anyone else," said Bob Toegemann, of Fremont, who joined four others for $200 worth of tickets. And if they won, he, like several others who were asked, said he'd help the poor. As a teacher, he said he sees a lot of youth who fall through society's cracks.

While some customers bought multiple tickets, many like David Stoner, 63, of Fremont, bought just one. "There's no sense in buying more," he said. "I'm not a big gambler."

Gary Grief, director of the Texas Lottery and spokesman for Powerball, said that by Wednesday, he expects that enough tickets will be sold to cover about 80 percent of all the possible combinations of the game's numbers. About 95 percent of Powerball tickets have computer-generated numbers.

The jackpot has ballooned since its Nov. 4 starting point of $40 million and spurred huge ticket sales. Between Powerball drawings Wednesday and Saturday, California sold $109.3 million in tickets, Lopez said.

Of the California Lottery revenue, 63.4 percent goes to prizes and 24.6 percent to K-12 education. Last fiscal year, that amounted to $1.39 billion — both a huge amount and a drop in the bucket of the $69.2 billion the state spends on education.

With all the hoopla, big drawings like Powerball aren't even the highest-grossing game in the California Lottery. That would be $5 Scratcher cards, Lopez said.

The next Powerball drawing will be at 8 p.m. Wednesday. The winner, if one strikes the jackpot, will have the option of a lump-sum payment or a payout over 30 years.

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