Jake Redcorn had never bought a Mega Millions ticket before, but on Thursday he walked out of a convenience store with six of them.
The supervisor at Dole Foods in Wichita was among millions of Americans lured into buying Mega Millions tickets by the biggest lottery jackpot of all time.
When Redcorn bought his tickets late Thursday afternoon, the jackpot had reached a staggering $540 million. By noon Friday, it had reached $640 million.
“I probably have better odds on this than I do on the blackjack tables at the Kansas Star,” Redcorn said.
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And if he wins?
“I got eight children,” he said. “They’d find ways to spend it.”
He – and everyone else buying tickets – will find out tonight if there’s a new multimillionaire. The drawing will be held at 10 p.m. Tickets may be purchased until 8:59 p.m. If one ticket matches all six numbers for the jackpot, the winner will have the choice of receiving the full jackpot in 26 annual payments of about $20.7 million, or a cash option of approximately $389.8 million.
The Mega Millions jackpot has been growing since January, when an Atlanta woman won a piddly $72 million. It was already in the stratosphere when nobody won Tuesday’s drawing. After that, sales really began to spike, pushing the jackpot higher and higher. By midday Wednesday it had reached half a billion dollars, and on Thursday it went even higher.
Today, the jackpot is expected to grow again, but at this point does it even matter?
“It’s a frenzy,” said Cara Sloan-Ramos, spokeswoman for the Kansas Lottery.
“Astronomical,” is the way Stayce Smith, assistant manager of the Kwik Shop at 2809 E. Douglas, described it.
The store usually sells $100 to $200 worth of Mega Millions tickets in a week, she said. On Thursday, it had sold $500 to $600 by midafternoon.
Smith was planning to buy a ticket before leaving work.
Mega Millions officials say the game, which began in 2002, has overtaken Powerball as the most played multistate, mega-jackpot lottery game. People are buying tickets in 42 states plus the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The biggest previous jackpot also was Mega Millions. In 2007, two players from Georgia and New Jersey shared $390 million. The highest Powerball jackpot was $365 million in 2006 and was shared by eight employees at a meat processing plant in Lincoln, Neb.
Sales of Mega Millions tickets in Kansas were projected to be three times normal. Lottery officials were advising people not to go overboard and not to spend more than they normally would allocate for entertainment.
According to Mega Millions, the odds of winning the jackpot are about one in 176 million. You are far more likely – by a factor of 10 – to be killed by lightning.
“One can think of it as rolling a die, and you are rolling a 176 million-sided die,” said Thomas Fisher, assistant professor of statistics at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
The good news is the odds don’t change no matter how many people are playing. Every $1 ticket has the same chance of winning as any other. But if you buy two tickets, you have two chances with the same odds.
Most were buying multiple tickets to improve their odds.
Deanna Ponting, a mother of four who is going to school to become a medical assistant, bought five tickets, with big dreams riding on each.
Her wish list:
“Pay my bills off, buy me a house, buy me a car, share the money with my mom and my sister, make sure my kids would be OK,” she said.
“Any time I’ve ever bought these tickets before, I’ve only won maybe a dollar,” Ponting said. “But I’m going to try. It’s a lot of money.”
Carolyn Burnett, a customer service rep from Wichita and mother of eight, bought a few lottery scratch tickets on Thursday, but she planned to return that night to buy a Mega Millions ticket and play her own numbers.
She knew others who planned to buy tickets as well.
“I don’t care if they get theirs,” Burnett said. “I’m getting mine.”
Nicky Gillen of Wichita planned to get a few tickets, too, hoping to help her parents and open a shelter for homeless families.
A single unemployed parent with two boys, Gillen has been homeless in the past, she said. She discovered that families can’t always stay together in shelters.
“I would make sure that anybody that needed it could have a room, bed, food, and families could stay together,” said Gillen, who lives in a house now. “I think that’s what the community needs.”
She’d also spend a few million on stuff she doesn’t need, like cars, travel and a big wardrobe, she said. Usually, she has to choose between food and gas, she said.
“I’ve never had money like that to blow,” Gillen said.
Brian Hawks, a father of two boys who works at a medical supply warehouse in Wichita, said if he wins he’ll buy a car and a house, travel, make sure his kids have money for college, and give money to people that need it.
He’d select charities such as the heart and diabetes associations to help. His mother died from diabetes, he said.
“I probably wouldn’t be able to spend that much money in my lifetime,” Hawks said.
Contributing: Matt Campbell and Eric Adler of the Kansas City Star