By Amy Jeter and Keri P. Mattox
WASHINGTON – Maryland lottery agents could be selling as many as 300 tickets a second in the minutes leading up to Friday night’s drawing for a $160 million Big Game jackpot, lottery officials predicted Thursday.
The jackpot will be the biggest ever offered in a Maryland lottery game and the biggest for the 30-month-old Big Game, a multistate lottery that conducts drawings every Tuesday and Friday. The previous Big Game record was $77 million.
The jackpot has driven crowds of bettors to ticket vendors in recent weeks. Lottery officials expect to sell $30 million of tickets — including $5.2 million Friday — compared with a weekly average of $750,000 in sales.
“This run-up has had an impact,” said Maryland Lottery spokesman Jimmy White. “For the last three weeks or month, we’ve seen a steady climb in sales.”
Vendors around the state agreed that sales have grown along with the jackpot. Several stores reported lines of people waiting to buy tickets before Tuesday’s drawing and they expect the same thing Friday.
Tai Aian, an assistant manager at a Rockville 7-Eleven, said there was a “very long line all day” in her store Tuesday, when she estimates she sold 500 tickets.
At Charles Street Liquors in Baltimore, cashier Sue Junker said the store sold more than 500 Big Game tickets this week, about five times more than normal.
The rush has been even more frantic at Midway Liquors in Joppa, where bartender Karen Mrocinski has gone from selling only 20 tickets a day to hundreds.
“I think Tuesday night I sat in front of that machine and punched out about 300 tickets,” Mrocinski said.
The run on tickets continued after no one took home a $97 million prize in Tuesday’s drawing, and it intensified as the stakes jumped to $140 million Wednesday and $160 million Thursday.
“Parts of the population that do not usually play are spending a dollar here and there when they get gas or go to the grocery store,” said Patrick Morton, a spokesman for the Maryland Lottery.
Both new and old customers are buying Big Game tickets at T’s Market in Salisbury, said owner Arif Hussain. At other outlets, the increase in sales is a matter of regular customers purchasing more tickets than usual.
“They’re here to just play their numbers and buy their regular tickets, but as the jackpot goes up, they buy more and more,” said Nikqui Tran, a cashier at Covey’s Liquors & Mini-Market in Preston.
Zavida Addula, an assistant manager at a Suitland 7-Eleven, said most of her customers are buying about five tickets at a time, but one customer bought 32 earlier this week.
At the Country Market in Elkton, where sales have doubled or tripled since lottery mania hit, cashier Chris Lee said the jump might be due to buyers from Delaware and Pennsylvania, which do not participate in the Big Game.
While Hussain is happy with this week’s jump in sales, he is not banking on big sales Friday.
“Lottery customers are strange,” he said. “Sometimes they come, sometimes they don’t.”
Lottery officials will meet Friday morning to determine whether they should boost the jackpot beyond $160 million. The winning numbers will be drawn at 11:07 p.m. in Atlanta and broadcast on WJZ-TV Baltimore and NewsChannel 8 in Washington.
White said lottery players should remember the odds when they pick up their tickets: The chances of winning the jackpot are one in 76 million.
“People should keep this in perspective and play within their means,” he said. “Don’t spend the milk money on this.”
But at a Frederick 7-Eleven, manager Mary Elshire wasn’t exactly discouraging sales.
“Anybody that comes in, I tell them what the jackpot is, I tell them it’s only a dollar,” Elshire said. “I tell them, ‘It could be you,’ and they buy it.”