Paul Singh had customers lined up at the door at 4 a.m. when he opened his convenience store Thursday on South Main Street in Phillipsburg, New Jersey.
With the multi-state Mega Millions jackpot reaching record heights, a steady stream of customers are stopping in to buy a ticket that for one lucky player could be the answer to all their dreams.
"Most people we get are from Pennsy," Singh, owner of Paul Mart, said.
While Pennsylvania participates in the 26-state Powerball lottery, locals stricken with lotto fever must cross the Delaware River for a chance to win the record jackpot in today's drawing -- estimated to be $290 million. New Jersey, along with 10 other states, participates in Mega Millions.
As of midday Thursday, Mega Millions tickets, a dollar each, were selling across New Jersey at a clip of 3,600 per minute -- about five times the normal rate, said lottery officials. Most players pick the cash option, which would pay $169 million up front rather than the annuity that gives monthly payments spread out over 25 years.
Singh said some customers have asked for hundreds of tickets at a time.
"Most people play quick pick," Singh said of a playing option where the lottery machine randomly picks the five numbers and the Mega Ball.
The ticket that matches all six numbers, a one in 135,145,926 chance, wins the jackpot. The game's long odds are reflected in the fact that no one has won the jackpot in the past 15 drawings. If no one wins today's drawing, the jackpot will roll over again, growing even larger.
According to the Mega Millions Web site, a jackpot could reach as high as $500 million. The Big Game, the precursor to Mega Millions, holds the North American jackpot record of $363 million reached in May 2000.
Lawrence Blocker of Easton bought $5 worth of tickets at Singh's store.
"I'm not that greedy," Blocker said. A regular lottery player, he comes over to New Jersey when the lottery gets big, which isn't as often as Powerball, according to Blocker. Powerball has only a paltry $13 million jackpot at stake during its next drawing Saturday.
If he wins, Blocker will buy a house, give some money to each of his three grown children and get a Chrysler 300, he said.
Over at Quick Check at New Brunswick and Hawk avenues in Pohatcong Township, Patrick Cummings of Alpha picked up 25 tickets for his family and co-workers.
Cummings, who works for AT&T, said he'd retire and take care of his family if he won the jackpot.
"I wouldn't live a frivolous lifestyle, I would live a comfortable lifestyle," Cummings said.
Employees said the line for tickets would grow its longest tomorrow.
Janet Burke, also of Alpha, picked up 100 tickets for her office pool. A computer programmer at Hewitt Associates in Bridgewater, Burke said at least two other people were buying tickets for the 400 employees who each gave $5 to join the pool.
"I'm not the only one getting tickets," Burke said. If she were to win she would invest the money and make sure her kids got through college debt-free, she said. Burke said she'd retire if she won enough money.