If there is no winner in Tuesday night's Mega Millions drawing, the pot will stand at nearly $1 billion — head and shoulders above the existing U.S. record lottery jackpot of $656 million.
Tuesday's massive Mega Millions jackpot — just $20 million short of the record — drew a frenzy of ticket-buying as casual, daily and irregular lottery players threw their money into the pool. At one point on Tuesday before the nighttime drawing, Marylanders were handing over cash for the $2 Mega Millions tickets at a rate of almost 101 tickets a second, or 6,041 per minute, said Maryland lottery spokeswoman Erica Palmisano.
Tuesday's drawing was set for after 11 p.m., and lottery officials said a winner likely wouldn't be known until after midnight.
"Got your Mega Millions yet?" Jigar Patel, a clerk at the Morrell Park Deli in Southwest Baltimore, called out to a regular customer around noon Tuesday.
Robert Prince, 70, says he plays the lottery daily, always with the same seven number combinations that represent the birthdays of himself, his wife, his son, his grandson, his father-in-law and his father, as well as his wedding anniversary.
You have a better chance of dying in a car accident on your way to buy a lottery ticket than of winning a big jackpot, Patel told Prince.
"Don't matter," Prince shrugged.
What would he do if he won?
"Try my best to spend every damn penny of it," Prince said. "I don't even know what I'd do, but I'd have some fun. My wife and kids wouldn't have to work for nothing."
If there is no winner in Tuesday's drawing, the jackpot will grow to an estimated $950 million, lottery officials said. The last Mega Millions drawing was on Friday.
The largest lottery jackpot in U.S. history, $656 million in the Mega Millions, was split among winners in Maryland, Kansas and Illinois last year. Tuesday's $636 million jackpot ranks as the second-largest, lottery officials said.
Tuesday's Mega Millions jackpot has a $341.2 million cash option, Palmisano said. If a Marylander is the sole winner, that person would net $226 million in cash or a $16.2 million annuity for 29 years, after taxes.
If no winner is drawn Tuesday and a Marylander is the sole winner in Friday's drawing, he or she would take home $337.6 million in cash or a $24.2 million annuity, after taxes.
"Everyone starts to play when it hits a certain amount," Palmisano said.
Around noon Tuesday, a steady stream of would-be millionaires bought tickets at Morrell Park Deli, and Patel said the store was selling hundreds more Mega Millions tickets than usual.
Many tempered their enthusiasm.
"I don't count on it," said Anna Church, 58, who said she would buy a house and care for her special-needs son and other family members if she won. "Usually I feel like city folks don't have much of a chance. It'll probably be someone in the county."
Another customer asked her what she meant.
"It takes money to get money," Church said.
Dean Moore said that he and his daughter's mother had bought at least 40 Mega Millions tickets since Friday.
Asked what he would spend his winnings on, Moore, 26, paused and grinned.
"So much. Homeless shelters. Build a new school. Invest a lot in Johns Hopkins University," he said. "The rest, just spend the [stuff] out of it."
His daughter would get a brand-new car, Moore said, though she's only 9. He said he would probably try to buy the Baltimore Ravens.
"I know the odds, the outcomes," Moore said. "I don't expect to win. But it's definitely fun."
Baltimore Sun reporter Scott Dance contributed to this article.