WASHINGTON, D.C. — If you've checked your Powerball lottery ticket — again and again — and you are definitely not the winner of last week's $144 million jackpot, it's still possible to play.
But not like that.
The winner of the multistate game, which had the largest jackpot in D.C. lottery history, has yet to come forward to claim the prize, and Washington can't stop buzzing about who it could be. So the lottery folks, knowing how to take advantage of buzz when they see it, created a game that's all about another game.
That's right: "Guess the Winner" is an online contest on the D.C. Lottery Web site that asks players whether they think the winner is a seasoned D.C. lottery player, an occasional player or a newbie, among other things.
Like Mark Twain's Jim Smiley, the fictional hero who never met a person, place or thing that he couldn't turn into a bet, lottery diehards can keep on playing.
"We're all on pins and needles for the winner to come forward," said Athena Hernandez, spokeswoman for the D.C. Lottery. "So this keeps up the enthusiasm for the game, keeps the public involved with this win."
The winning ticket was sold sometime last week at the Giant Food on Alabama Avenue in Southeast Washington. The winning Powerball numbers were picked Wednesday night, and first thing Thursday morning, Hernandez and her team raced to the grocery store, wondering whether they would get to meet the winner.
They waited and waited, camera in hand, banner draped across the store and balloon bouquet bobbing in the wind. But not a word.
So speculation about the winner and the fantasy of what would happen if you won turned into the Washington area's weekend parlor game. Already, 150 people have played the online version, Hernandez said.
They can take a stab at questions such as:
- Is the new multimillionaire a D.C. resident? Virginia? Maryland? Other?
- Were the $144 million numbers their own or was it a quick pick?
- Is it an individual or a group?
- The final question, the one that will truly separate a real winner from dabblers, asks, "How much was the wager on the ticket?"
The grand prize for this little game isn't a cut of the winnings. Or cash.
The winner or winners get to attend the announcement party once the Powerball winner comes forward.
And they get a gift basket with D.C. Lottery T-shirts, mugs, bags and, of course, more lottery tickets.
Rewind: A Jolt of Powerball Joy Hits SE Washington
The thought electrified Southeast Washington all day: In the produce aisle, at the pharmacy counter or perhaps near the breakfast sausages, a newly minted multimillionaire could be lurking.
"Is it you?" grandmothers asked each other as they stood in the ever-growing line for lottery tickets, gripping their stacks of Scratchers, Hot Lotto tickets and Keno cards at the neighborhood's Alabama Avenue Giant Food supermarket.
The idea that the winning $144 million Powerball ticket was sold at the counter in front of them sparked the imagination, dreams and gossip. It made them crazy. And a little proud.
For decades, residents of Ward 8 had watched as vast grocery stores were built in other wards, as fancy condominiums went up elsewhere in the region and as Powerball lottery winners from other parts of the country mugged for the cameras. At long last, they have a shiny new supermarket. Condo developments have been built. And, finally, according to lottery officials, a multimillionaire had been made right there on Alabama Avenue.
"I come here to play almost every day but yesterday," lamented Arzetta Hilliard, who didn't indulge her lottery habit Wednesday, her 54th birthday and the day someone at the Giant bought a ticket with the winning numbers 1-6-48-52-56, and 9. Those numbers entitle the winner to the largest jackpot in D.C. lottery history, officials said.
"But we need this for D.C., for the winner to come from our neighborhood," Hilliard said. "It's always someone from somewhere else. But whoever it is, I hope it's someone who is from our neighborhood, has worked for a long time, deserves it and will enjoy it."
The winner remained a mystery yesterday. D.C. Lottery officials waited outside the store in a bright blue van decorated with stars and lottery logos. They had a bunch of balloons and a camera ready.
"Usually, they'll call the claim center. But you never know," said Athena Hernandez, spokeswoman for the D.C. Lottery, as she waited for the person who beat the 1-in-196 million odds against having the right numbers.
Before a face and a name could be attached to the winnings, people's thoughts drifted to all kinds of "if I won" scenarios:
Jamaica. Aruba. London.
"A trip to the islands. I ain't hatin' on men, but for something like this, it would be all us sisters, getting our groove back," said Joyce Williams, 50, who said her religious beliefs forbid her to buy lottery tickets. But not from dreaming.
Others ticked off what they would buy. The cars. The houses. The things.
Sharnell Payne, 31, slammed shut the cash drawer at the International House of Pancakes and spoke of her vision of creating a business empire.
"I'm a certified interior decorator. I would start my own business and turn it into a huge empire," said Payne, a cashier at the pancake place next to the winning supermarket. The sit-down full-service restaurant is considered another sign of the area's renaissance.
The strip mall that is part of the same development as the Giant -- on land purchased by the city and held in limbo for nearly 25 years -- was a hive of activity yesterday, with construction on a sandwich shop and other future stores.
A woman in a quilted jacket rushed to take her place in line. It was her first time there. The woman, a retired schoolteacher, said she usually buys her lottery tickets at the Exxon on Pennsylvania Avenue SE, near Branch Avenue.
"But I think this store is lucky today," she whispered, asking that her name not be published because she was on a sick day from work. If she won a lottery jackpot, she said, she would help public schools in the city and Catholic schools.
"And, well, being an English teacher, I would love to visit London," she said. "And Stratford-upon-Avon, for Shakespeare, you know."
Early yesterday morning, Hernandez, of the D.C. Lottery, got a call from the central Powerball office telling her that she had a winner and where the ticket was sold. Powerball officials didn't yet know what time the ticket was bought or by whom, she said.
She got ready quickly but made sure she was camera-perfect before heading out, bringing along a big blue banner to hang across the store's facade. "This is such an exciting day," she said.
The winner can take the money in an annuity that pays $144 million in 30 installments over 29 years or in a lump sum of $79.6 million.
Usually, the winner goes to the local lottery office, where the ticket and identification are presented, Hernandez said.
All the attention made Mark Ortega, the manager of the store, delighted.
"It's such a wonderful thing, for this community," he said.
Under Powerball rules, the store that sells the winning tickets gets a cut. In this case, Giant Food will get $100,000, Hernandez said.
Ortega said his corporate bosses will decide what to do with the share. He said he hopes the money will be donated to the community.
So do others in the neighborhood.
Within hours of the announcement, Josh Gibson was at the store, fliers and brochures in hand.
"I want some of that money," he said, explaining that he is trying to build a culinary arts training program at nearby Ballou Senior High School. "I knew I had to get here fast."