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Stores Brace for Powerball Hysteria

July 28, 1998

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) _ The odds of winning Wednesday’s Powerball jackpot are, of course, ridiculously high. Then again, the odds of the prize reaching $250 million weren’t so good either.

``It is a statistical anomaly,″ said Charles Strutt, executive director of the Multi-State Lottery Association, which operates the Powerball game played in 20 states and the District of Columbia.

``A quarter of a billion dollars _ statistically, it’s 0.4 percent of the time we should get to this level. This is surprising us.″

The game has not had a winner since a $10 million prize went to a group of Missouri utility workers who pooled their money for the May 23 drawing, three days after an Illinois couple won the $195 million jackpot, the previous U.S. lottery record.

Since then, 18 drawings have resulted in dozens of $100,000 winners who matched five numbers but not the Powerball.

The longer the game goes without a jackpot winner, the more intense the interest in Powerball grows despite the 1-in-80.1 million chance of winning.

Iowa was selling Powerball tickets Monday at the rate of 1,000 a minute, Connecticut remained a hotbed for sales with people streaming in from New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts, where the game is not played.

Powerball is played in Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Wisconsin and West Virginia and the District of Columbia.

Vivian Whitehurst of New York City drove an hour Monday to Stamford, Conn., only to stand in a slow-moving line of about 50 people.

``You have dreams of what you can do,″ Whitehurst said. ``Everybody is making their plans of what they want to do. My son called and said he was ready to tell his boss he wouldn’t see him again _ and a few other things _ if we had hit (last week’s $183 million jackpot).″

In Phoenix, Pat Gonzales already had spent $20 on tickets and expected to buy another $10 worth. She and her boyfriend buy tickets at eight different convenience stores.

``Right before Powerball closes, we have a route and we’ll go around and put $4 at every place,″ she said.

As intense as sales have been, stores were bracing for even more activity on Wednesday, when two-thirds of this drawing’s tickets are expected to be sold.

A single winner in Wednesday night’s drawing could win, before taxes, a lump-sum payment of $137 million or $10 million annually for the next 25 years.

Dan Hefty, a manager at Lions Quick Mart in Janesville, Wis., said he has extra everything on hand to accommodate a crush of would-be millionaires.

``We ordered extra paper, extra ribbons (for the Powerball machine),″ he said. ``And we’ll have somebody extra here to deal with the Powerball rush. Wednesday is going to be nuts. ... People will drop $50 or $75 at a time and think nothing of it.″

That kind of free spending worries gambling opponents, who say that people who can least afford to spend money on lottery tickets are among those standing in line.

``I wonder if government feels really proud of itself watching people lining up and losing money?″ said the Rev. Tom Grey, executive director of the National Coalition Against Gambling Expansion, based in Hanover, Ill.

``The role of government ought not to be in creating in its citizens a sense that the way out of anything is the hope they hit a lottery,″ Grey said. ``It’s a false hope.″

But Vance Smith, who sold nearly 1,500 tickets in two days at his convenience store in a low-income area of south Phoenix, said that hope means a lot to people who want to change their lifestyle in quick fashion.

``When it gets this high, you can tell they are racking and scraping to buy that Powerball ticket,″ Smith said. ``But you’ve got to realize, if you never had a piece of a dream, the odds don’t matter.

``It’s that catchy little phrase, `If you don’t play, you can’t win,‴ he said. ``People just figure if they can just get a piece of it. I mean at $250 million, that’s quite a piece.″

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