It's a curious pop culture phenomenon that the richer the lottery jackpot, the bigger the frenzy it creates at retail outlets.
If you need proof, look no further than Canada's Lotto Max multi-province game this month.
On Friday, the nine-month-old lottery is poised to award the biggest aggregate jackpot in Canadian lottery history as its top prize remains at $50 million for the fourth week in a row. (No jackpot-winning tickets were sold during the last three weeks.)
But that's not all. It is also projected to have another 55 prizes of $1 million each.
Last week, 30 of these were won across the country, including two winners in Winnipeg.
Ticket sales, not surprisingly, have gone through the roof. Andrea Marantz, Winnipeg-based director of corporate affairs and communications with Western Canada Lottery Corp., said gross sales in the Prairie region were $21.4 million for the June 11 draw, the second week the $50 million jackpot was on the line, while national sales were $90 million.
Last week, sales in this region rose to $28.4 million and national sales jumped to $124 million. Back on March 26, when the jackpot was a mere $10 million — the minimum for Lotto Max — sales in the Prairies were $3.8 million compared to the national figure of $19 million.
All indicators point towards another record this week, she said.
Marantz said ticket buyers get caught up in the craziness as a form of entertainment.
It's similar to people who immerse themselves in romance novels, she said.
"You don't buy them because they're deep literature. It's your entertainment, you get a little bit of fantasy there. That's why people buy lottery tickets. For two days beforehand, you make these grandiose plans of giving your brother or your kids millions of dollars," she said.
Jackpots like this one can take on a life of their own, according to Bob Altemeyer, a retired psychology professor at the University of Manitoba.
"They don't make a whole lot of sense when they happen compared to everyday life. If many people you know who only occasionally buy a lottery ticket are buying for this one, that's going to create the perception that you should do it, too. You better get in on it," he said.
"Fifty million dollars is an astronomical sum to be available at one time. To some people it might look like a once-in-a-lifetime chance, so why not throw in a couple of bucks?"
Altemeyer said while more pedestrian seven-digit jackpots would still be more money than many people could spend in a lifetime, they don't have the same cachet as the "extraordinary" prizes.
"If I told you there was an extraordinarily beautiful woman wanting to meet you, wouldn't you be much more interested than if I said there was a good-looking chick who wanted to meet you? That's the difference between $50 million and $7 million," he said.
This is the third time in Lotto Max's history its jackpot has hit its $50 million cap.
The first time, it was won by Marie and Kirby Fontaine of Sagkeeng First Nation last November.
Tracy Lidster bought a ticket for this weekend's draw at Polo Park Shopping Centre on Wednesday.
She said she was never a regular lottery player until Lotto Max was launched last fall.
"I tend to buy more tickets now, which is weird," said the owner of a Dairy Queen and Orange Julius franchise in Brandon.
Lidster admitted her laissez-faire attitude towards $3 million or $4 million jackpots was peculiar — she doesn't go out of her way to buy tickets for them — but she admitted she'd be happy to win $1,000.
She has no shortage of ideas of what she'd do if she won the big prize, however.
After talking to her accountant and lawyer, she said she'd probably take her extended family on a trip to Hawaii.
"I'd probably buy a big car, too, an Audi, a cottage at Clear Lake and a whole closet full of shoes. To be able to walk into a store and buy whatever you want, that would be nice," she said.
Not great odds
EVEN with the addition of 55 $1 million prizes, the odds of success at Lotto Max are still astronomical. (You need to match seven numbers out of 49.) The chance of winning the $50 million jackpot is about one in 28 million but the odds of winning that or one of the 55 $1 million prizes is about one in 600,000. That's roughly one person in Winnipeg.
"You'd be a complete idiot if you were buying it as an investment and thinking you expect to get a return on your $5. That's not what people are doing," said Andrea Marantz, director of corporate affairs and communications with Western Canada Lottery Corp.