UPDATE: The Maryland Lottery announced shortly before noon Friday that the jackpot for the Mega Millions drawing Friday evening has climbed to $640 million (annuity value). The cash option on the $640 million jackpot is $462 million, which comes out $307.2 million after taxes, according to the Lottery.
Angela Hoover wasn't too optimistic about her chances of becoming an instant millionaire, but she dropped by Bel Air Liquors around lunchtime Thursday, anyway, to take a shot at winning the unprecedented half-billion-dollar Mega Millions lottery.
"I never play until it gets really big," the Harford County government employee said, explaining she normally plays the lottery in a pool with fellow workers.
"We all chip in a buck. It's fun. It's worth a chance, you know?" Hoover said.
Hoover does have plans if she wins the big one when the numbers are drawn Friday evening.
"I would go back to work and torture everyone," she said with a smile. "I would let my husband retire, definitely go on vacation."
Liquor stores, bars and other lottery vendors in Harford County have stayed very busy this past week as the Mega Millions jackpot jumped to $500 million Wednesday and to $540 million annuity value Thursday – "the largest in the world," according to the Maryland Lottery, which runs the national game in Maryland.
Festival Spirits Wine & Deli, on Bel Air South Parkway, sold $1,500 in lottery tickets on Tuesday alone, the day of the last drawing, manager Kerry Coliano said. Nobody won the jackpot, which at the time was $363 million.
"Tuesday we probably did what we usually do in one week with lotto," Coliano said. "I don't think it's ever been this big."
The week before Tuesday, the store sold $2,046 in tickets.
"It's been pretty crazy," Festival Spirits employee Sean Adams said. "People are coming out, to be quite honest, who don't normally buy a lottery ticket. They will come in and spend $10 and say, 'What do I have to lose?'"
"You see faces you have never seen before just because people see it's $500 million," he continued, saying the store did sell a bit winning ticket perhaps 15 years ago.
"I worked yesterday and that's all we did was sell tickets," Alison Day, a bartender at Looney's Pub in Bel Air, said Thursday.
Make no mistake, Harford County has been fertile ground for big lottery payoffs in the past.
Last September, a local couple, who has never been publicly identified, won a $108.8 million Powerball jackpot with a ticket purchased at an Abingdon liquor store. In December, a Havre de Grace man won $1 million with a Powerball Power Play ticket from a liquor store in his hometown.
There have been other big winners locally over the years, as if Harford residents really needed any other incentive to take the plunge for a chance to become a half-billionaire.
Bel Air Liquors had a steady line of people Thursday in front of the bright red lottery machine, eager to get their piece of the pie.
Sales associate Shane McCarthy said the store had sold 3,170 tickets since Tuesday.
Typically, McCarthy said, "we probably sell half of that in two weeks."
"People are quite crazy about it, especially the older people," he said. "Just because it's so high, they think they have more of a chance of winning."
McCarthy said he has also seen younger people who are 18 or 21 years old and may never have bought a lottery ticket before.
"People usually ask for the big one," he said, noting the liquor store did have a woman win a $100,000 on a scratch-off last year.
"When it's this crazy, we tend to make more money off it, but on average, we don't tend to make a crazy amount of money," he said.
Those buying into the giant jackpot expressed a variety of dreams if they strike it rich.
One woman who declined to give her name bought five tickets at Festival Spirits, explaining, "I usually don't buy it, but I am tired of my job. I want to quit my job."
Sophia Vanschaick, of Abingdon, was playing with an office pool, as were many people.
"When it gets big, we often want to chip in," she explained, not being too naive about her chances of winning.
"I am pretty sure there's a lot of people trying," Vanschaick said, adding if she wins, she will pay off her bills and travel.
A man, who plays the lottery "once in awhile," got a ticket at Bel Air Liquors. Should he win, he said, he'll "just party."