A surge of ticket buying has swelled the jackpot in the multistate Mega Millions lottery game to at least $222 million -- a figure that could go even higher before Friday night's drawing.
That had lottery players -- the regulars and those who jump in only when jackpots border on the obscene -- trying to comprehend nearly unfathomable riches in the third-largest jackpot ever offered in New Jersey.
"If I won, my wife would have my face on the side of milk cartons, 'cause I'd be missing," said Jim McClure of Point Pleasant as he bought a few tickets at a 7-Eleven in his hometown.
The sheer size of the jackpot had some struggling to comprehend just how much money $222 million is.
"It's too much to think about," said Francis Comes of Brick. "I'm not sure anyone could grasp that."
Comes was at a loss to imagine how he could spend that much money. But if he did suddenly find himself with $222 million, he could:
- Send a check for $26.38 to each one of New Jersey's 8,414,350 residents;
- Pay the seven years remaining on the contracts of New York Yankees infielders Alex Rodriguez or Derek Jeter (but not both);
- Provide his own matching funds for every dollar raised by President Bush, John Kerry and Howard Dean _ combined;
- Hire 4,410 new New Jersey State Troopers (and pay for their uniform allowances).
"It's going to be huge," said Virginia Bauer, executive director of the New Jersey Lottery.
Tickets were flying out of lottery terminals around the state at a rate of 1,100 per minute _ a pace that was sure to increase as Friday's 11 p.m. drawing approached.
In New Jersey, the jackpot trails only the $363 million Big Game prize in May 2000, and a $330 million Big Game prize in April 2002.
Lottery players have the option to take the entire prize spread out over 20 years, or opt for the cash value, which, in the case of a single winner, would be $131 million, less about 25 percent in taxes.
Frank Warnsdorfer of Point Pleasant also gave in to Mega Millions fever, but his purchase _ three tickets _ was as modest as his dreams.
"I'd buy myself a new car, probably like the one I'm already driving," he said. (He drives a Chevy Cavalier.)
Told he could buy an entire fleet of sports cars and still be filthy, stinking rich, Warnsdorfer demurred.
"I'm 77 years old," he said. "What the hell do I need with a Lamborghini?"
Pressed further, he thought awhile and offered that he'd probably take a trip to Hawaii, then give most of his winnings to his children.
But with $222 million, he could also:
- Send two bottles of Robert Mondavi 2000 Reserve Chardonnay to each of New Jersey's 3,064,645 households;
- Buy 1,110 Lamborghini Diablos ($200,000 apiece);
- Buy 21,503 Kia Rio automobiles ($10,324 including New Jersey sales tax);
- Double what the New Jersey Nets are paying Jason Kidd ($103 million for six years), and still hire a decent bench player;
- Pay Michael Jackson's $3 million bail -- 74 times.
Andrea Ippolito of Point Pleasant would invest in real estate -- lots of it.
"I'd buy a nice house on the beach," she said. "I'd buy my family houses, buy everybody houses."
She also could:
- Lay a trail of $1 bills end-to-end from one end of New Jersey (Montague in Sussex) to the other end (Cape May) 118 times;
- Pay the salaries of every player on the Milwaukee Brewers, Oakland Athletics, Kansas City Royals, Montreal Expos and Toronto Blue Jays combined;
- Finance the entire 10,000-man Afghanistan Army envisioned by President Bush;
- Purchase nearly 2.5 million bottles of Dom Perrignon champagne ($90 each);
- Buy 10,000 tickets for every Mega Millions drawing for the next 213 years.
John Pompilio of Point Pleasant Beach, who was cranking out tickets behind the 7-Eleven counter for a steady stream of customers Thursday, reminded star-struck dreamers of a more sobering statistic: The odds of winning first prize are a staggering 1-in-135 million.
"That's like being hit by lightning twice," he said.