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Local consumers buy lottery tickets in anticipation of tonight’s drawing

By Paul Harris

Mega Millions jackpot fever has hit Manhattan along with most of the rest of the country. The lottery jackpot, which stands at $640 million but could increase by the time of tonight’s drawing at 10:30 p.m., is the largest domestic lottery drawing ever.

Dara’s Fast Lane No. 5, 1102 Laramie, manager Steven Stewart said he has not seen a response like this since the jackpot first topped $300 million.

“I worked in Candlewood a few years back, and K-State was playing Nebraska in football that weekend. You had Nebraska fans out the door buying the lottery ticket.”

The store has yet to see that sort of a line, but Stewart, who bought nearly $40 in Mega Millions tickets for himself, said customers are coming in to the store and dropping $40-$100 on tickets.

Stewart said he expects more and more people to come in and buy a ticket the longer the day drags on.

“More people will come in when they get a break for lunch or other work breaks.”

Clerk Jay Bockelman said he has sold more Mega Millions tickets this morning than he has any other morning this week.

“I’ll get people who have no idea what it is,” Bockelman said. “People that I have never even seen before, will come in and buy Mega Millions.”

Stewart said the idea of being richer than athletes is fueling the fervor.

“I can be richer than (Los Angeles Lakers guard) Kobe Bryant, (Miami Heat guard) Dwyane Wade, and (presidential hopeful) Mitt Romney,” he said.

People have already taken to the Kansas Lottery’s Facebook page and posted what they do with the winnings.

Cara Sloan-Ramos, director of communications for the Kansas Lottery, said most people claim they would pay off bills, donate to charity and start a college fund for their kids. One user said he would buy a private island.

The last MegaMillions win in Kansas was in July 2011, when a group of co-workers won a $250,000 jackpot.

Sloan-Ramos said 90 percent of the 176 million combinations have already been covered by this morning.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if it were 100 percent of all the combinations were covered by the time of the drawing,” she said.

Nationally, players are converging on convenience stores in 42 states and Washington, D.C., where Mega Millions tickets are sold. 

  Many in Indiana were further encouraged by a free shot at instantaneous, enormous wealth: Hoosier Lottery officials were giving away one free Mega Millions ticket to each of the first 540 players at several outlets around the state Friday. 

  In Indianapolis, college student Chris Stewart said he showed up at the lottery’s headquarters at 6:30 a.m., two hours before doors opened, to be at the head of a line of about 60 people who wanted to claim a freebie. 

  ‘‘I’ve never seen a jackpot like this before,’’ said Stewart, who bought five additional tickets for the drawing. ‘‘If I won — I mean wow! I just don’t know what I’d do. I’d really have to think what I could do with it.’’ 

  Mike Catalano, chairman of the mathematics department at Dakota Wesleyan University in Mitchell, S.D., concedes the math is clear: The more tickets you buy, the better your chances of winning. 

  But even buying 10 tickets filled out 10 different ways only increasing odds of winning the jackpot to 10 in 176 million. 

  ‘‘You are about 50 times as likely to get struck by lightning as to win the lottery, based on the 90 people a year getting struck by lightning,’’ Catalano said. ‘‘Of course, if you buy 50 tickets, you’ve equalized your chances of winning the jackpot with getting struck by lightning.’’ 

  Based on other U.S. averages, you’re about 8,000 times more likely to be murdered than to win the lottery, and about 20,000 times more likely to die in a car crash than hit the lucky numbers, Catalano said. 

  ‘‘You might get some psychological enjoyment from playing the lottery, but from a financial standpoint ... you’d be much better off going to Las Vegas and playing blackjack or the slot machines,’’ he said. 

  For David Kramer, a lawyer in Lincoln, Neb., buying his Mega Millions ticket Thursday wasn’t about ‘‘the realistic opportunity to win.’’ 

  ‘‘It’s the fact that for three days, the daydreaming time about what I would do if I won is great entertainment and, frankly, a very nice release from a normal day,’’ he said. 

  Even those seemingly well aware of the odds are at least taking a shot this week, including Dymond Fields, of St. Paul, Minn., a retail store cashier who bought just one ticket. 

  ‘‘I see people paying $30, $40, $50, and that’s just painful,’’ he said. 

  In line to buy tickets with Fields was 80-year-old Everett Eahmer, also of St. Paul, who said he’s been playing the lottery ‘‘since the beginning.’’ 

  ‘‘If I win, the first thing I’m going to do is buy a (Tim) Tebow football shirt, and I’m going to do the Tebow pose,’’ said Eahmer, who bought five tickets. ‘‘I’m with him in honoring a higher power.’’ 

  Lottery officials are happy to have Friday’s record Mega Millions jackpot fueling ticket sales, but even they caution against spending large amounts per person. 

  ‘‘When people ask me, I just tell them that the odds of a lottery game make it a game of fate,’’ said Chuck Strutt, executive director of the Urbandale, Iowa-based Multi-State Lottery Association that oversees the Mega Millions, Powerball and other lotteries. ‘‘Just buy a ticket, sit back and see if fate points a finger at you for that day.’’ 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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