As the coiling line of people inside the Thompson Center collapsed in on itself Friday morning, Illinois State Police Sgt. Carlton Riley radioed for backup to help figure out how to deal with the crowd.
"All right, people, we got a problem now!" Riley barked. "I need you to pay attention and keep the line tight."
Riley might have had a problem, but almost no one else did. The estimated 600 people in line were there to claim a share of what may be the highest-ever total payout for the Illinois Lottery's "Pick Four" game.
The winners will share about $8.4 million, before taxes, said Tracy Owens, a Lottery representative.
There were so many people at the Thompson Center on Friday that Owens doubted the staff of four on the seventh floor would be able to process everyone.
"There's a great possibility that people will be coming back on Monday or Tuesday," Owens said.
Curley Harris, a 61-year-old teller from the West Side, had no intention of being among those people.
"They are closed Saturday, and they might run out of money Monday," Harris said. "We want our money today. You better get it while you can get it."
Owens said winners don't need to worry — they have up to a year to claim their winnings, he explained.
Harder to explain was what made so many people select the numbers for the Wednesday evening drawing. It certainly helped that the numbers drawn were all the same — 2222. Repeating combinations are among the most popular among players, Owens said.
The Pick Four game has been around since 1982, but payout records only go back to 1996, and since that date, the Wednesday evening drawing was the highest payout on record, Owens said. The next-largest payout was $5.6 million, in 2005, Owens said.
Players win according to how much they put in. If you'd spent a mere 50 cents — and you picked the correct four numbers — you'd get $2,500, Owens said. There's no limit on how much money you can put down on one set of numbers.
Most folks in line — at least those who were talking — had paid $1, maybe $2 at the most. Winners can also pick up their checks at Lottery offices in Des Plaines, Rockford, Springfield and Fairview Heights, near St. Louis.
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