Barry Epstein pulled his Mercedes-Benz sedan into the parking lot of a 76 gas station in Century City.
Dressed modestly in a University of Utah hoodie and sweatpants, the banking consultant walked beneath a chandelier to the cash register.
He was ready to give the Powerball jackpot another go.
“Millionaire made here. Are you next?” a sign at the station read. Below it, the familiar red digits displaying the latest lottery totals stood frozen at $999 million. The sign was not made to display the crazy new total: a record-breaking $1.4 billion.
The veteran banking industry employee was just one example of something the Assn. of California School Administrators said in a statement supporting the lottery Monday: “The national phenomenon that is this Powerball drawing has people of all socioeconomic backgrounds rushing to ticket agents for their chance at the grand prize.”
The lottery — especially when it swells to numbers that would make most millionaires look poor — holds an allure to more than people with dreams of climbing out of poverty or paying off mortgages and student loans.
At Colker’s Union Oil 76 station in Beverly Hills, the flow of traffic has been “crazy,” employee Rosie Perez said. On Saturday, she said, they weren’t selling gas because the pumps were blocked by people who came to purchase tickets. There has been a mix of customers coming to the station, Perez said. Some are middle class, others are wealthy.
“They buy from one [ticket] to $1,000, $2,000, $3,000,” Perez said.
Sometimes, she said, people send their housekeeper or gardener to buy them a ticket.
Like many well-off patrons of the 76 gas station in Century City — where one winner purchased a $30-million Mega Millions ticket in 2014 — Epstein said the exorbitant pot is more money than he could use. Instead of keeping the winnings for himself, he said, he would use them to ensure his family is “taken care of” and that programs helping Los Angeles’ homeless population had the funding they need.
“If you win a lot of money, you need to give back,” Epstein said. “You don’t need that kind of money.”
“Hopefully, whoever wins this is someone who can use the money,” he added as an attendant filled up a woman’s brand-new Mercedes SUV. “If not use the money, then share it.”
The gas station sold Powerball tickets to more than 500 people Saturday, the day of the last drawing, said one manager who wouldn’t give his name because of company policy. Tuesday and Wednesday will be the busiest days this week, he said, as crowds of people file into the store to buy their orange slips at the last minute. Superstition says tickets sold closest to the drawing time are the luckiest.
An “overwhelming” number of wealthy buyers have flocked to the Rite-Aid in Beverly Hills, one worker said, with some customers purchasing thousands of dollars worth of tickets. Their expensive purses, shoes and tailored suits provide sharp clues that they are not among L.A.'s blue-collar workers.
On the other hand, a lot of restaurant workers and city employees come in to buy tickets, she said.
In Century City, Zach Suchin, whose business dealing with product and brand development sits next door to the 76 station, rounded up five of his employees and encouraged them to buy tickets. As they scrounged up spare cash — $6, $8 — and debated whether their citizenship status would allow them to collect the winnings, he handed a crisp $100 bill to the cashier.
“If I win, they all get $1 million as their 2016 bonus,” Suchin said as he waited.
“It will take a minute,” the cashier told him. “It’s a lot of tickets.”
Suchin, 31, said that if he won he would donate half the money and continue to work every day. He and his employees plan to watch the Powerball drawing together Wednesday night.
While the group chatted inside the station, a line of about 10 people formed around them to buy their tickets. As they made their purchases, they bid each other good luck.
Times staff writer Brittny Mejia contributed to this report.