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Powerball frenzy is $250,000,000 dream

July 27, 1998

photo: RICHARD T. MEAGHER / staff photographer

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Powerball fever stikesBy LAURA ERNDE and CLYDE FORD / Staff Writers

FALLING WATERS, W.Va. - Powerball fever caused traffic to back up Monday on U.S. 11 to Interstate 81 with out-of-state drivers stopping to buy lottery tickets at the Texaco Food Mart in Falling Waters.

With the jackpot now estimated at a whopping $250 million, the "fever" has become an epidemic.

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No one hit the $183 million prize on Saturday. The next drawing is Wednesday night

West Virginia is one of 20 states and the District of Columbia to participate in the twice weekly Powerball drawing.

Donna Taylor, 46, a convenience store clerk in Mount Carmel, Pa., drove 171 miles to buy $150 in tickets.

"I'm a widow with three kids to raise and I want a piece of that prize," Taylor said.

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She brought her son, Brad, 16, to keep her company on the trip.

"I'd probably build me a new home in the country. I'd just give my kids everything they've never had in life and I'd probably give to people who need it. I'd be kind with it," Taylor said.

Convenience store clerks said they are not looking forward to the next two days.

"I think it's going to get worse," said Lee Windsor, a cashier at the Texaco station, where the line at times was an hour long.

The West Virginia Department of Transportation put two workers clad in orange safety vests outside the convenience store to help keep traffic moving.

Highway worker Roy Wood said traffic had backed up down U.S. 11 to the exit ramp off Interstate 81, creating a safety hazard on the highway.

"This is the first time we had to do this for a lottery," said his fellow worker, Joe High.

West Virginia Lottery spokeswoman Nancy Bulla said the $250 million prize would pay out $6.55 million a year for 25 years after federal and state taxes were taken out. Players also can opt for the cash payout and receive a one-time payment of $137 million or $89,735,000 after taxes.

Buying more than one ticket boosts players' chances of winning, but the odds remain the same for each ticket, Bulla said.

"The odds are the odds, regardless of how many tickets you buy," she said.

In Powerball, players choose five white numbered balls from a pool of 49 and a red ball from a pool of 42 numbers.

Bulla said sales of other West Virginia lottery games may be slumping slightly, but the $3 million in tickets sold in the state for Wednesday's drawing more than compensated.

"Our overall sales are dramatically higher," Bulla said.

The top 114 sales locations were all in border areas, Bulla said.

Sales of Maryland lottery tickets appeared to be down from people playing Powerball instead, said Buddy Roogow, director of the Maryland State Lottery Agency.

Maryland players are surrounded by areas with Powerball: West Virginia, Delaware and the District of Columbia, Roogow said.

Roogow said he even intends to play Powerball. "I've asked somebody to buy me a ticket if they go to West Virginia or D.C. I understand that enthusiasm and desire to play," he said.

But Roogow thinks the astronomical jackpot is bad for lotteries overall because people will not want to play for a $1 million prize.

"People become a little bit jaded about jackpots," Roogow said. "I think there is a limit. There's an expression we use called 'lottery fatigue.'

"It tends to rob the enthusiasm of lottery players. Obviously, the odds of winning are infinitesimally small," he said.

The odds of hitting the right combination of the six lottery numbers is 80-million-to-1, while the odds of winning the Big Game in Maryland, which has gone as high as $79 million, are 52 million-to-one.

Pennsylvania Lottery has also seen the effects of "jackpot fatigue," said spokeswoman Cris Stambaugh.

Lottery players used to get excited about $10 million jackpots, but now it takes $20 million to see an increase in sales, she said.

Powerball caused a 10 percent decline in sales of the Keystone Jackpot, she said.

But the state isn't worried about the drop. Some weeks, Pennsylvania's jackpot is high and Powerball is low.

"This is normal and we're not concerned about it," she said.

Maryland Lottery is trying to shift reliance away from the Big Game and onto smaller-prize games that have a greater chance of paying off, Roogow said.

Inevitably, however, people will be drawn to the mega-jackpots, he said.

Vivian Herall, 36, of Hagerstown, was not jaded about Wednesday's jackpot.

"I'd like to own my dream house - three bedrooms and three baths," Herall said.

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