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Powerball players buying by the bunch

July 30, 1998|By RICHARD F. BELISLE, Waynesboro

BUNKER HILL, W.Va. - By now the unidentified man who bought $1,500 in Powerball tickets at the Corner Grocery Store in Bunker Hill Wednesday should know if his investment turned into a $292 million fortune or if it went down the tubes.

His odds of winning were 80-million-to-1 in Wednesday night's drawing of the largest jackpot in history.

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Several clerks at lottery outlets in West Virginia's Eastern Panhandle reported individual sales ranging from $1 to $500,

One man bought $350 worth of $1 tickets at the Country Roads General Store in Middleway, W.Va.

Mary Jane Virts, a clerk there, said she and co-worker Laurie Figgins had found themselves in the midst of a ticket-buying frenzy since last week.

"We're worn out. It broke this little store's record. We've had people from everywhere - D.C., Tennessee, Kentucky, New Jersey, even Texas," Virts said. The sign outside many convenience stores where Powerball tickets are sold flashed the $250 million figure. The sign at the Corner Grocery where the $1,500 ticket was sold read $80 million. "It's too small for $250 million, but we haven't had time to get a bigger one," said clerk Sandy Williams. She said she sold 100 tickets to several people.

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"Some people come in and buy $100 worth here then go somewhere else and buy $100 worth there," she said.

In Powerball, players choose five numbers from a pool of 49 and the Powerball from a pool of 42 numbers.

A single winner in Wednesday night's drawing could win, before taxes, a lump-sum payment of $137 million or $10 million annually for the next 25 years.

The jackpot had not been hit since May 23 when a group of Missouri utility workers shared a $10 million prize. That drawing came three days after Frank and Shirley Capaci of Streamwood, Ill., won a $195 million Powerball jackpot, the previous record.

Kelley Sutter, who works at Crowell's Village Store on North Queen Street in Martinsburg, W.Va., said her biggest sale was to a Camp Hill, Pa., man who bought $390 worth of the $1 tickets. She said she sold several people $100 worth of the tickets, and had the machine spit out 275 tickets for a man getting them for a group of co-workers.

West Virginia, one of 20 states and the District of Columbia participating in the Powerball game, has become popular with Pennsylvania residents in the last week.

A television news team from Harrisburg, Pa., headed by reporter Ellen Kolodziej, was sent to Barney's Restaurant at the intersection of U.S. 11 and Spring Mills Road in northern Berkeley County to cover the Powerball story.

"You wouldn't believe the number of people from our area who come down here to buy tickets," said Kolodziej, whose station covers South Central Pennsylvania, including Franklin County.

She said she had to buy about $30 worth of tickets for co-workers when they learned she was making the trip to West Virginia. "A bunch of people gave me money before I could run out of the station," she said.

Lure of big bucks

The lure of big money brought Jason Lucia, 18, of Lemont, Pa., in Fayette County, to the 7-Eleven store in Shepherdstown, W.Va. Tuesday night, where he plunked down $50 for Powerball tickets.

"Maybe this will pay for my college," said Lucia, who said he will be a freshman at the University of Pittsburgh this fall.

"I got $10 for tonight and $10 for Saturday night in case nobody wins," Franklin County Public Defender Robert Trambley said Wednesday. He bought about $60 dollars in tickets, including some for staff in his office, the District Attorney's Office and a couple of state troopers.

"I put cash down because I didn't know what they wanted," Trambley said of the cash or annuity option.

Trambley said he went to the Texaco Food Mart in Marlowe, W.Va., and waited about 40 minutes to buy the tickets. "I knew they sold them there because there were about 50 cars outside," he said.

"I usually don't play the lottery, but some folks here in the office said 'why don't we get together and buy some?'" said Doug Amsley at Franklin County Juvenile Probation. Thirty-one people pooled $155, he said.

Upstairs in the Human Services offices, no one was betting the rent money on the lottery, but 30 employees pooled $55 in hopes of hitting the jackpot.

Administrative Assistant Kim Brookens said one caseworker "went and got the tickets for us ... on his own time. We've all been dreaming about what we'd do with the money."

Business was brisk at the Panhandle's border with Virginia, another non-Powerball state. Cars with Virginia license plates jammed the parking lot at Cunningham's State Line Market in Bunker Hill, just over the state line.

Debbie Bucklew of Winchester, Va., walked out of the store with three tickets.

"I don't buy lottery tickets unless it gets really big," she said. "This is a lot for me."

It was the third trip to the store in three days for Thornton Phillips of Winchester. On Wednesday, he bought $10 worth for a friend and another $35 worth for himself.

"Buying this many doesn't really improve your chances. The guy who buys one ticket could win, too," he said.

80.1 combinations

With 80.1 million possible combinations, a player's chance of winning was remote. Still, lottery officials had said there was about a 90 percent chance that at least one of the 150 million tickets expected to be sold by the drawing would hit the jackpot.

Clerk Bonnie Potts said her biggest sale of the day was for $250 worth of tickets. A man came in on Saturday and bought $500, but Potts didn't know if he was buying for other people or just himself.

"A lot of people have pools going at work," she said.

The line of buyers before the store's two ticket-dispensing computers was 10 deep at times, but it was slowing down Wednesday evening, Potts said. "Last night they were clear out through the door," she said.

Staff Writer Don Aines contributed to this story.

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