People lined up at grocery stores and gas stations across the state Tuesday for their $1 chance to win Wednesday's $50-million Florida Lotto jackpot. The game has rolled over eight times since Feb. 12 and is the 20th-highest jackpot ever for the state.
"People get very excited when the jackpot rises and start to play more money," said Zaki Homsani, assistant manager of a local Miami gas station. "Those who always play spend more money, and those who never play will spend one or two bucks."
Even though the odds are against them, 23-million to 1, it's the illusion of winning that makes people play, Zaki said.
He says long lines usually start to form at his cashier the evening of the drawing.
If a sole winner chooses to take the jackpot over 30 years, it would amount to an estimated $1.6-million per year. The lump-sum payout would be $28.5-million.
A regular player, Romina Roversi, 33, says that spending $5 per week is not such a huge bet. "I have no vices; I don't drink, I don't smoke. I'm a stay-at-home mom. If I win $50-million, those $5 a week will mean nothing to me."
She says she will spend more money now that the stakes are higher.
Ticket sales are anticipated to peak tonight before the drawing. Twenty-six additional Lottery terminals have been installed at outlets along the borders with Alabama and Georgia to meet demand.
But at Casey's Liquors, a store in Yulee on the Florida-Georgia line north of Jacksonville, lotto fever hadn't taken hold as of Tuesday. "It is very slow," said Gogin Dalal, owner of the store. "If it was twice as much money, people would be excited."
A sampling of customers at a Tampa Publix revealed many were playing for the first time after learning of the large jackpot. "I'm probably better off putting a couple of matches to these things, but you never know," said Tampa resident John Cardinal, waving his tickets.
Many said they used a combination of numbers from birthdays to determine their picks and typically played the same numbers every week. But resident E.C. Duck said he deliberately chooses random numbers out of a sense of fear.
"I don't know what I'd do if one morning I woke up and saw my regular numbers won the jackpot and then realized I forgot to play the Lotto that week."
Last year, four tickets split Florida's largest jackpot, worth an estimated $104.85-million.
"Regular people win," said a laughing Juan Carlos Olavarry, owner of a Miami clothing store. "That's incentive enough for me to play a couple of dollars a week. Maybe someday I'll beat the odds."