MIAMI -- Prospective millionaires jammed convenience stores, supermarkets and gas stations from Pensacola to Key West yesterday in the waning hours of a weeklong buying frenzy that has produced a record Florida Lotto jackpot that may yet grow into the richest in history.
The estimated payoff: $100 million plus.
The odds of winning: 1 in 13,983,816.
The number of players who don't believe they'll win: 0.
"Everyone thinks they're going to win," said Dave Sweezy, director of the Miami regional lottery office. "I guess that's human nature. But we are urging moderation, reminding them it only takes one."
Try telling that to the lady who flew in from Las Vegas yesterday morning and bought 1,200 of the $1 tickets. Or players in Tampa and Pensacola who each bought $10,000 worth. Or Michael Taylor, a 21-year-old University of Miami student who stood in line behind about 30 other hopefuls in a Circle K store in Coral Gables. "I already had 10 tickets," he said, "but then I thought of some more numbers. And I just had a feeling. So I'm back to buy five more."
Despite advice from Gov. Bob Martinez to "play responsibly," gold-rush fever continues to rage. "People are coming in with $100, $200, even $300, and they all think that with a little luck it could be them," said Frank Soler, owner of Frank's Discount in Miami.
In Miami's Latino neighborhoods, this lottery prize is called el gordo, the fat one. People from all over the country see it as the chance of a lifetime. "I've had calls from every state," said Mr. Sweezy, including one from California where a group of investors offered a check for $13.9 million in exchange for tickets covering every combination.
Mr. Sweezy said that it would take one terminal 63 weeks to print out 13.9 million tickets.
So many out-of-state players have been driving into Florida that the lottery commission set up 30 extra terminals along the Georgia and Alabama borders. Hundreds of Bahamians have flown into Miami to buy thousands of tickets, most for illegal resale in the islands, officials said.
["Everybody who knew I was coming to Florida this week wanted me to buy them Lotto tickets," said Frank Greer, a Washington-based election consultant, the Associated Press reported. "That's all anyone is talking about."
[One New Yorker who gave his name only as Mike flew to Miami and gave the owner of a Shell station near the airport $10,000 and picked up his tickets in a shopping bag.
[The $1 tickets were being hustled for $3 to $5 at newsstands on New York's Wall Street and midtown Manhattan. A Georgia couple who parked their pickup at a Macon shopping mall and posted a sign saying "Florida Lottery Tickets for Sale" was arrested Wednesday.]
It has been four weeks since anyone has picked the right six numbers in the weekly Lotto game, and the prize has ballooned to the highest since the Florida lottery was begun in 1988.
The largest lottery jackpot on record is the $115 million awarded last year in Pennsylvania.
The drawing is at 11 p.m. today.