She had "never bought one of these before in my life," Helen Bode gasped, hiding her face behind a Maryland Lotto ticket in mock embarrassment. But the huge jackpot -- $14 million -- was all she heard about all day at work.
She couldn't stand it anymore. So last night, on her way from her job as a secretary at Westinghouse to her home in Arnold in Anne Arundel County, she stopped at Grand Ritchie Liquors on Mountain Road for just one $1 ticket.
Ms. Bode wasn't alone. As four weeks have crawled by without a winner in the Maryland Lottery's Lotto game, and the jackpot has
swollen, some ticket sellers say more first-time and occasional players have queued up at counters across the state to take a shot at the nearly 7 million-to-one chance of picking the lucky six numbers.
Sales around the state were "moving rapidly," Marty Goldman, deputy director of marketing for the lottery, said yesterday -- so rapidly that late in the day, the jackpot was increased from $13.5 million to $14 million.
The prize is the largest since the twice-weekly drawings started last January and approaches the record jackpot, a $15 million promotion in May 1988 to celebrate the lottery's 15th anniversary. That was split by four winners.
The largest jackpot based solely on ticket sales was $14.5 million in April 1990, split by two winners, according to a lottery spokeswoman.
The growing numbers mean increased sales for lottery agents as steady streams of players stopped in various outlets throughout the day yesterday. Lottery officials said they would keep their sales computers open an extra hour Monday and yesterday to accommodate the additional sales. Tickets also are sold until 10 minutes before tonight's drawing.
"I'm seeing a lot of new faces," said Tom McGuire, who was selling lottery tickets from a computer at Dugan's Liquors in the 1300 block of Reisterstown Road. "When you have them at the register buying something, you tell them how much the
jackpot is, and you can usually talk them into buying a ticket or two."
Often, regular customers double their usual ticket purchases when the prize reaches $8 million or more, or they change their ticket-buying habits, he said.
Lafayette Brunson, who usually stops in Dugan's for his Lotto tickets after he cashes his paycheck on Fridays, made it a point to get there yesterday.
Mr. Brunson, a laborer for contractors Potts and Callahan, estimates he spends $20 to $25 a week on Lotto tickets. He says he has hit four numbers several times, but he "can't quite get that fifth number" that means larger winnings.
Darrin Gambrill of Severn said he buys only one Lotto ticket every week at a liquor store near his home. "That's all it takes to win," he explained. But this week, with the jackpot nearing a record, he drove to Grand Ritchie Liquors to see if it would change his luck, he said.
Despite brisk sales, few long lines developed during the day. "You come back between 5 and quarter to eight," said Gloria Bolander, manager of Grand Ritchie. "The line will be from the counter all the way back to the beer box."