Americans seeking Mega Millions jackpot flock to ‘lucky’ stores

Keith Ganatra, owner of Del Monte Market in Laveen, Ariz., sells lottery tickets at a brisk pace Tuesday.
(Ross D. Franklin / Associated Press)
<i>This post has been updated, as indicated below.</i>

In March 2012, Merle and Patricia Butler bought their winning Mega Millions ticket at the Moto Mart in Red Bud, Ill.

The game had its highest jackpot in history - $656 million - and as one of three winning ticket holders, the Butlers took home a lump-sum prize of $158 million.

At 8 p.m. Tuesday, a drawing is scheduled for what is expected to be Mega Millions’ second-highest jackpot: $636 million.

[Updated, 8:11 p.m. Dec. 17: The winning numbers were 8, 14, 17, 20, 39 and the mega, 7, the Associated Press reported.]

And with just a few hours before the drawing was set to begin, Denise Metzger, store manager at that Moto Mart, was almost too busy running the register to talk on the phone.


“We’re a small town, but I would expect there were over 1,000 transactions today alone since 6 a.m.,” Metzger told the Los Angeles Times. Red Bud has a population of 3,633.

Metzger estimated that 98% of her customers were buying Mega Millions tickets Tuesday.

Moto Mart was not the only store with frenzied shoppers looking to win big.

People hoping to win the jackpot rushed to convenience stores and gas stations throughout 43 states, plus the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands, where winning tickets have been sold.

The odds of winning have slimmed since Mega Millions announced “game enhancements” on Oct. 19 that resulted in a “larger, faster-growing jackpot,” according to the Mega Millions website.

Previously, players picked six numbers between 1 and 56; now, they pick six numbers between 1 and 75. That makes the chance of hitting the jackpot 1 in 259 million instead of the previous 1 in 176 million.

Playland Market in Rye, N.Y., became a popular spot for buyers after selling a Powerball ticket last year worth $1 million. The prize was never claimed, and the ticket expired in August.

“There’s been a lot of people coming in today and yesterday,” store employee Alakdanar Matho told The Times. “I can’t give an estimate because there are so many.”

Matho said most customers seemed excited as they purchased tickets.

“I hope our store has the winner,” he said.

Metzger said she thought people returned to her store for lottery tickets for various reasons.

“Everyone’s got their own philosophy,” she said. “Some think lightning can strike twice and really believe in that. Some come out of convenience. Others really like my staff.”

She said she was among those who believed lightning can strike twice.

“I even bought my ticket here,” she said.

Metzger felt the odds were exactly the same now as they were last year when her store sold a winning ticket, even though the rules had changed. “It’s basically a different game now ... all bets are off. It can hit here just as well as it can hit anywhere else,” she said.

And if her store has another winner, she said, “It would be something to see, wouldn’t it?”

Chuck Strutt, director of the Multi-State Lottery Assn. - a nonprofit with 33 member lotteries, including Mega Millions and Powerball - told The Times that buyers go to stores that have previously sold winning tickets out of “purely superstitious beliefs.”

But, he added, buyers’ superstition can help turn lucky stores into repeat winners.

“Over time, because the store sales go up, they do have more winners,” Strutt said. “It kind of feeds into itself.”

He said a town in Wisconsin advertised its business district as the “Miracle Mile” a few years back.

“They would promote themselves as the lucky place to buy lottery tickets, and people just began to flock there,” he said. “People would drive from nearby states like Ilinois to buy tickets.”

But as a “scientific kind of guy,” Strutt said he didn’t think location mattered.

“You buy your ticket, those are your odds,” he said. “It doesn’t matter where you are or if you’re wearing your lucky hat or not.”


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