Marylanders line up as Powerball jackpot reaches $325 million

Vivian Lee of East Baltimore says she'll pause her Wii bowling match-up with her husband long enough to watch the drawing. "If I don't win, I'll say, 'Try it again,'" Lee said.
Vivian Lee of East Baltimore says she'll pause her Wii bowling match-up with her husband long enough to watch the drawing. "If I don't win, I'll say, 'Try it again,'" Lee said. (Barbara Haddock Taylor, Baltimore Sun)

If Davon Johnson of West Baltimore hits Saturday's $325 million Powerball jackpot, he wouldn't be the sort of tycoon who blends into the crowd.

He'd hire a pair of bodyguards (California-based Platinum Protection Group charges $35 an hour for one unarmed guard), move straight to Beverly Hills (where the average house costs $1 million) and throw down cash for a jet (a 43-year-old Gulfstream at Aircraft Shopper Online can be had for $585,000, and prices go up from there).

In fact, the more Johnson and his half brothers, Frank White and Meech Tucker, talked about all the ways they'd spend the cash, the more tickets Johnson bought. He left Herling's Grocery Basket in Lexington Market on Friday with five chances to become a millionaire.

"I need the money," Johnson said. "If I hit, I am gonna show off. You're gonna know; I'll be on 'World News.' I don't normally play the lottery, but once I heard it was so big, I ain't had no choice but to play."

The current jackpot, which can be paid in installments over 29 years or in a $202.9 million lump sum, is the third-largest Powerball prize ever, and the biggest since lottery officials improved the odds in mid-January.

Buying a Powerball ticket gives you a 1-in-175 million chance of winning.

To put that figure into perspective: 175 million is more than double the number of students sitting in every single classroom in America from nursery school to college, or greater than the population of all of the states that line the East and West coasts.

Still, Powerball number-crunchers say, with four fewer red balls in the drum since mid-January, the odds of winning have improved from 1 in 195 million. To win the jackpot, a player must match all five white balls drawn from a pool of 59, and the red Powerball, plucked from a pool of 35.

Last year, two Powerball tickets worth more than $100 million each were sold in Maryland — one in Elkton and the other in Abingdon.

Maryland is one of 44 states that, along with the District of Columbia, sell the $2 tickets. They are available until late Saturday, said Brian Johnson, assistant director of communications for the Maryland State Lottery Agency. The drawing will be broadcast at 11:22 p.m. on WBAL.

He encouraged would-be players not to wait until the last minute to buy the tickets because local retailers might end sales before the official closing time of 10:45 p.m.

The possibility of walking away with at least $4 in winnings in Powerball is 1 in 31.85 — perhaps high enough to score bragging rights among your friends.

The odds don't much matter to Vivian Lee of East Baltimore. She bought a ticket at Lexington Market while on a break from jury duty Thursday.

"I'd pay off a lot of stuff, especially all of those bills, the mortgage and everything," Lee said.

Lee said she'll pause her Wii bowling match with her husband long enough to watch Saturday's drawing.

"If I don't win, I'll say, 'Try it again,'" Lee said.

That fantasy is the lottery's chief allure, says Stephen McDaniel, a University of Maryland sports and entertainment marketing professor who studies what draws people to certain games.

"People believe in luck, lucky numbers, lucky store," McDaniel said. "Logically, you could argue that you might as well drive down the highway and throw your couple of dollars out of the window, but like the slogan goes: You can't win if you don't play."

Matthew Johnson, an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine who researches decision-making, said players may know their odds are slim, but people don't calculate odds the way a computer would.

"Once your probability is so low, it gets stuffed into a category of really, really unlikely," he said. And so the fact that the odds of winning the jackpot improved last month probably isn't as big a draw as the size of the prize, Johnson said.

That's been Kishor Shrestha's experience. Shrestha has sold lottery tickets for the past three years at Ben-Lex Tobacco Shop in Lexington Market. He expects to see long lines in advance of the drawing.

"They are excited," Shrestha said of the crowd that builds to buy tickets in the days before a big drawing. Ben-Lex has two red Powerball machines in its tiny storefront, which is not much bigger than the porch on a rowhouse.

Joshua Anderson of West Baltimore said he gave up buying Powerball tickets over the summer out of frustration. He said he switched to scratch-offs.

"I don't believe in luck," Anderson said, holding a handful of cash in front of the scratch-off display at Herling's Grocery Basket. "I believe in what's going to happen."

Lawrence Toogood of Baltimore has a different attitude. He envisions himself with a winning ticket in hand, and he has retirement on his mind. He plays every week.

"I'm destined to win," Toogood said.