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Mega Millions lottery poised for takeoff

Ready for blastoff?

Ready for blastoff?

The Mega Millions multistate lottery is, if no one hits the $207 million grand prize tonight.

Should its seven-week unlucky streak continue till next weekend, the country might even see a new lottery jackpot record.

The reason is simple: The bigger jackpots get, the faster they grow. Tonight's jackpot could rise depending on sales today before the 11 p.m. drawing.

When no one in New Jersey or 11 other states nabbed Tuesday night's $170 million windfall, the total rose by $37 million - more than the two previous hikes combined.

The last time the jackpot crossed the $200 million line was in February. A $179 million prize jumped to $220 million, then leapt to $275 million, with a Georgia ironworker holding the only winning ticket.

In August last year, the jackpot grew from $171 million to $206 million, almost the same as tonight's. Then it reached $250 million - $44 million more - before bouncing up $80 million, hitting a whopping $330 million.

One of the four winning tickets belonged to a Cape May County couple, Sandra and John Belawsky, whose cash option was worth $48.6 million, before taxes.

Only one Mega Millions jackpot was bigger - the $390 million pot of March 2007 that was split by a Georgia man and another Cape May County couple, Elaine and Harold Messner.

That jackpot needed nine weeks to reach $100 million - but just a few days to soar even more, zooming from $275 million to set what is still the North American record.

A lack of lunch-hour lines at a few South Jersey stores yesterday seemed to suggest the lagging economy is deterring even lottery players.

But more to blame was probably the rain, said Dominick DeMarco, New Jersey Lottery spokesman.

"The day-of sales usually are pretty robust," he said.

Plus, the bigger the jackpots get, the more the media adds fuel to the fire, he said, noting the irony of a reporter's question.

"It starts to take a life on its own," he said.

Saturday, we'll know for sure.

Some folks will be suddenly much richer, the jackpot signs will be much higher, or recessions do discourage dreams.

By the way, New Jersey isn't the closest Mega Millions state for many Pennsylvanians. The game is also played in Maryland, New York and Ohio.

There was a steady flow of Mega Million purchasers at Pantry 1 Food Mart in Woodlynne, Camden County this morning.

Assistant manager Mayur Patel said due to the holiday season, customers have been purchasing a wide variety of lottery tickets, from scratch-offs to the large jackpots like Mega Millions.

"You have more chances to win with Christmas tickets," said Patel 19, of Swedesboro. "We have had about 200 customers a day coming out for lottery tickets. Our lottery numbers have increased in the last month."

Patel said the jackpot could reach $275 million if ticket sales increase today.

Gregory C. Jones Sr., 62 of Camden, used quick pick to decide the numbers for his five Mega Millions tickets.

"I haven't played lottery for a while," Jones said, "but tonight it's a lot of money. You never win unless you try."

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