Jackpot jumps -- and so do sales

A huge jackpot is stirring sales and excitement Tell the boss, "Adios!"

Pay cash for the sleekest sports car, done up with plasma TVs and shiny rims. And while you're at it, buy a new house - a mansion even, with a dozen bedrooms, gold chandeliers (if you're flashy, and somewhat tacky) and an Olympic-size backyard swimming pool.


And why stop there? Do it all again for your mom and dad and brothers and sisters - and even that might not make a huge dent.

Mind-boggling. Unimaginable. Just straight-up crazy. That's what people are saying about tonight's $355 million Mega Millions jackpot.


"Oh, man," said Sunny Singh, 26, a clerk at the Indo-Pak Grocery Store in Fells Point, imagining the windfall. "We gotta wait for that. I have no idea what I'd do. I'll find out if I hit."

Not that tonight's jackpot is the biggest ever. Back in 2000, when the multistate Mega Millions was called the Big Game, two winners from Michigan and Illinois split a $363 million jackpot. And a jackpot last year of $365 million in the Powerball game played in other states was split by eight Nebraska meat-processing workers.

Though the huge prize is something of an illusion - based on years of annuity payments, before taxes - tonight's drawing is stirring enough excitement that lottery officials are moving it from the usual spot in Atlanta to New York City's Times Square.

Still, the odds are incredible: It's a 1 in 176 million chance that a player will hit all five numbers, plus the Mega Ball.

Yesterday's ticket sales in Maryland (one of 12 Mega Millions states) were running three times higher than last Monday's, said Buddy W. Roogow, the state lottery director. And he expected sales would only increase today, in anticipation of the drawing that takes place shortly after 11 p.m.

For the most part, there were no long lines or traffic jams for ticket buyers across the state. But today could get hectic, Roogow said - and if nobody wins tonight, forget about it.

"If we roll, if we don't have a winner," Roogow said, "the jackpot will be unbelievable on Friday. We're talking $450 million or more."

As if $355 million isn't unbelievable - or even the much lower post-tax payoff for a winner taking a cash prize rather than the annuity.


The jackpot had been estimated earlier in the day at $340 million. But that was before a conference call between the 12 states' lottery directors. Late in the morning, they increased the number to $355 million, and Roogow said there is a possibility that it will rise again before tonight's drawing.

At a High's convenience store in Harford County, not far from the Pennsylvania state line, sales were reported booming yesterday. Because Mega Millions tickets are not sold in Pennsylvania, stores on the wrong side of the Mason-Dixon Line can take a whipping when the jackpot gets insanely high.

The store's assistant manager, Mary Doane, 24, said lottery sales there topped $10,000 Friday - fueled mostly, she said, by Mega Millions. (There was no jackpot winner that night.)

"We've sold 20 at a time," Doane said. "Ten at a time. Mostly quick picks. We have a couple of people who stand around looking for the right number to pick."

Tony Dunton wasn't planning on playing the game. "What's it called?" he asked, standing in Seena Wines & Liquors on Baltimore's St. Paul Street yesterday afternoon and ready to buy his Pick 3 and Pick 4 tickets. But when he heard about the jackpot, he ponied up another dollar.

Dunton was feeling lucky, he said, after landing a job doing janitorial work after a long stretch struggling to make ends meet.


"My baby's mother always says I buy my daughter too much stuff," Dunton said, explaining that since he got his new job, he has indulged his 15-year-old daughter with a new CD player and a pre-paid cell phone. "I'm buying her love, she says. So when I hit this Mega Millions, I'm gonna say, 'Barbara, you want me to buy her something now?'"