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As Powerball jackpot continues to swell, 'everyone wants a piece' of $1.3-billion prize

 As Powerball jackpot continues to swell, 'everyone wants a piece' of $1.3-billion prize
People buy Powerball lottery tickets at the Bluebird liquor store in Hawthorne. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

At Valley Foods Liquor in El Sereno, manager Bryan Guillermo rang up customers Sunday from behind a counter strewn with shredded lottery tickets.

"They haven't hit it yet, huh?" said a regular, Richard Kelly, 34. He had a new lottery ticket in one hand, and cash in the other.

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After no one won Saturday's $949.8-million Powerball jackpot, lottery hopefuls across California came back for another chance, though not yet in last week's numbers.

By 4 p.m. Sunday, Californians had purchased 10 million lottery tickets, a significant slowdown from the same time period before last weekend's drawing day, when more than 20 million lottery tickets were sold before 4 p.m. Across 44 states and three U.S. territories where Powerball is played, more than $1 billion of tickets were sold before Saturday's drawing.

"There's a bit of a hangover from yesterday. Tomorrow will be bigger," Alex Traverso, spokesman for California State Lottery, said Sunday. "Wednesday during the day will be the biggest day we've ever had."

As of Sunday evening, the jackpot for Wednesday's Powerball drawing was $1.3 billion — a record-breaking number so large it doesn't even fit on the adjustable signs hanging outside many of the stores selling tickets.

As word of the cartoonishly large prize spread, crowds formed early at outlets listed on the California Lottery's website as "lucky retailers" — for having sold more high-winning tickets than other stores.

Mark Boesen displays his Powerball lottery tickets at the Bluebird liquor store in Hawthorne.
Mark Boesen displays his Powerball lottery tickets at the Bluebird liquor store in Hawthorne. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

At Kavanagh Liquors No. 1 in Alameda County, a crowd of about 40 was spilling out the door by 10 a.m., waiting up to an hour to buy a lottery ticket, manager David Spahn said.

He estimated that the store had sold more than 200,000 tickets in the last week. Lottery tickets bring in nearly 70% of the store's total revenue, Spahn said — and who knows what will happen this week.

"All bets are off now. We're in unprecedented territory, and everyone wants a piece of it," Spahn said. "It'll start as soon as we open our doors, and we'll be turning away people by the end."

The odds of winning the jackpot are 1 in 292.2 million, said Ron Wasserstein, executive director of the American Statistical Assn. But many lottery players said even an infinitesimal chance at $1.3 billion was worth exploring.

In El Sereno, Richard Kelly, a 34-year-old Alhambra resident, said he knew the odds — but with three mouths to feed on a barber's income, he'll take them. The jackpot — which would be $806 million lump-sum payment — is an ocean of money large enough to wash away all his problems.

"I would stop struggling," said Kelly of what he'd do with the money. "I would buy food for my kids. Surviving, bro, that's where it starts, you know?"

Aaron Esquibel, a chef from East Los Angeles, was next in line at Valley Foods Liquor. He picked numbers 11 and 16, for his birth month and birthday. He played 5 — his and his dad's lucky number — and added 55 for good measure. He said his last number, 47, was just one he had a feeling about. Before Sunday, he'd never bought a lottery ticket.

"I was a skeptic at first. Nobody I know around here has won anything really big," Esquibel said. "But so many people are talking about it."

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At Ralphs in San Marino, Tina Fernandez and her mother puzzled through menus on a touch-screen kiosk. Fernandez said she rarely buys lottery tickets — this was her first in more than a year — but she got caught up in the excitement.

"It's wishful thinking, the dreamy possibility of 'Why not me?'" said the commercial insurance agent. "Even if I don't win the 1.3 billion, it could be something smaller."

In Boyle Heights, mariachi Luis A. Orozco, 50, leaned his guitar against a checkout counter and reached into his pocket for his wallet.

He's spent $200 on lottery tickets in the last week and won nothing. But awhile ago, he said, he won $10,000, and the memory is still strong in his mind.

"Always a chance," he said.

Twitter: @frankshyong

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