Published 9:26 PM EDT Oct 21, 2018
LOS ANGELES — Non-stop. Intense. Crazy.
Those are a few of the words being used by convenience store workers to describe business over the past week — all because of the now record-breaking $1.6 billion Mega Millions jackpot, the biggest lottery prize in U.S. history.
While the crowds typically increase as the jackpot gets bigger, several workers and ticket-buyers told USA TODAY that this one has drawn the longest lines.
At a Chevron near Los Angeles International Airport, workers said the line snaked through the store on Friday, with about 700 people buying Mega Millions tickets. One clerk said the line didn't stop from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m., almost her entire shift.
The hype led Brittany Hadley, 31, of Ventura, California, to buy a lotto ticket for the first time on Sunday. Her uncle has played the lotto for as long as she can remember, but the biggest jackpot ever drove the beach club worker to get two Mega Millions tickets herself after a hike.
"Everyone has been talking about it," Hadley said. "So I was like, 'Oh, why not give it a try?' You never know."
A nearby Shell station sold so many Mega Millions tickets in the past week that they ran out of the paper slips for the lotto. Around 2 p.m. Sunday, supervisor Tracy Turner had to call for more. Luckily for lotto players, a lottery worker usually delivers the same day, she said.
“Mega Millions has already entered historic territory, but it's truly astounding to think that now the jackpot has reached an all-time world record,” Gordon Medenica, lead director of the Mega Millions Group and director of Maryland Lottery and Gaming, said in a statement. “It’s hard to overstate how exciting this is — but now it’s really getting fun.”
Medenica told The Washington Post that about 57 percent of the possible number combinations were purchased in advance of Friday’s drawing and that it was an “extremely pleasant surprise” there was no winner among the 280 million tickets.
“That means the odds were [a winning ticket] would have gotten picked, but it didn’t,” Medenica said. “This is really uncharted territory for all of us.”
Based on sales projections, 75 percent of the 302 million possible combinations will be chosen for Tuesday’s drawing, the Associated Press reported Sunday.
“It’s possible that nobody wins again. But it’s hard to fathom,” said Carole Gentry, spokeswoman for Maryland Lottery and Gaming.
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Liquor store worker Claudia Diaz said this is the busiest lotto-buying craze since she began working in liquor and convenience stores 10 years ago. In a 3 1/2-hour span last Wednesday, she said 50 people bought Mega Million tickets at the Los Angeles shop across the street from a grocery store.
In the hour leading up to the 7 p.m. PST sales cutoff that night, a person bought a ticket almost every minute at a 7-Eleven store in Culver City. Worker Ana Sorto recalled one customer buying $452 worth of Mega Million tickets the week before when the jackpot was $548 million. She said he told her he planned to give one ticket to everyone at his workplace, presumably all 226 at $2 per ticket.
"They get crazy for lottery tickets," said Sorto's co-worker, David Chavez.
For this Mega Millions jackpot, Lamont Smith, 46, of Los Angeles has bought at least one ticket almost every day since it hit $100 million. A regular lotto player, the advertising worker said he waits an extra 5 to 7 minutes in line for this jackpot because of the crowds. Listening to people talk about what they will do if they win is fun, Smith said.
If he wins, Smith plans to invest in municipal bonds and give his immediate family allowances for the rest of their lives. Back home in Philadelphia, he said he once won $346,000 from the Cash 5 lottery.
"When I go and put it under the scanner, the thrill is to see if you won," Smith told USA TODAY on Sunday after buying lotto tickets. "It's a thrill when that digit comes up that you won. Whether it's $5 or $5,000, it's just the thrill that, 'Oh, I won!'"
Mega Millions is played in 44 states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Contributing: The Associated Press