Against the odds, Big Game jackpot could be the ticket to big dreams

April 11, 2002|By KEVIN COWHERD

I MET Teiana Shannon yesterday at BBX, a spacious liquor and wine store off U.S. 40 in Edgewood, where people were handing over their money so fast you wondered if they were printing it up in their basements.

Outside on the large digital message board, the words "Big Game jackpot $200 mill" flashed in the morning sun, causing motorists who saw it at the last minute to hit their brakes and screech into the parking lot on two wheels like something out of a Smokey and the Bandit movie.

It was why Shannon, 22, a warehouse worker who lives in the area, was standing at the lottery machine now with nine bucks in her hands and all these dreams in her head.

Two hundred million dollars, I said to her. What would you do if you won all that money?

She smiled and thought hard for a moment.

"Set my family up," she said finally. "Give everyone a nice lump sum. Then disappear."

Disappear?

"To an island," she said. "I'd probably buy an island."

As the Big Game jackpot continued to grow yesterday - the next drawing is tomorrow night in Atlanta - there were lots of people willing to forget about the astronomical odds of winning (approximately 1 in 78 million) and dreaming of sun-drenched islands and crystal blue waters and a life where the toughest decision every day revolves around what kind of rum drink with a little umbrella to swill first.

For weeks now, as the Big Game jackpot climbed and climbed, the lottery machines at BBX have been doing a brisk business. At lunchtime and after work, the place looks like a big social club, with 15 or 20 people in line to buy tickets and everyone else chattering away about hitting it big and getting out of the rat race.

You can tell it's a big jackpot, said the store's general manager, Michael Cullison, because it brings out so many novices, lottery rubes who may as well be chewing on a piece of straw when they buy their tickets.

"They come in and ask for the Big Ball game, Power Lottery, whatever," said Cullison. "They don't have any idea what they're playing. They just want to play."

Big jackpots also bring out the office pools, said Cullison, where, say, 50 co-workers kick in two bucks each and send Janice from accounting down to BBX to buy the tickets that will kick-start their new lives of wealth and leisure.

What's astounding is how many people sound absolutely convinced they're about to win.

"Oh, yeah, they all tell me they're gonna buy the store and I'll be working for them someday," laughed Cullison. "The other thing they all say is, they're all gonna give me a big tip if they win. They're gonna take care of me."

Well, except for the fellow who bought a Big Game ticket the other day on his lunch hour and swore if he won, he'd only keep a million bucks or so.

"I'm going to give the rest to Jesus," the guy added, guaranteeing himself, one assumes, a wide berth from the other customers as he left the store.

A moment or two later, Cullison excused himself to sell tickets to Toby Nichols, a 30-year-old paving contractor who's a regular customer and says he drops $40 or $50 a week playing the Big Game, Cash in Hand, whatever catches his eye.

Last year, he hit on six numbers while playing Lotto. Only before he could pop the champagne and start swinging from the chandeliers, he realized he'd played the six numbers on a different lottery game. He would not, therefore, be moving into that new mansion just yet.

"Oh, I got [mad]," he said. "Broke the windshield of my truck."

When I asked Nichols what he'd do with 200 mil if he won, he proceeded to outline - in rather, um, colorful fashion - the kind of hedonistic scenario that would make the hottest Club Med vacation look like a Cub Scout outing by comparison.

I don't think we can get that in the paper, I told him. And if we did, I'd be mopping floors at a Popeye's the next day.

"Oh, OK, said Nichols, chastened. "I'd probably take care of my mom and buy some real estate."

At this, my eyes began to glaze over. Look, I said, the paper isn't owned by the Amish. You can say something racier than that if you want.

"OK, I'd be out partying seven nights a week and buy a Lamborghini or a Ferrari!" he whooped.

A lot of veteran lottery players, Cullison said, are notoriously superstitious. Some will only buy their tickets from a certain clerk in the store. Some men won't buy a ticket if a woman is in line in front of them. Others won't buy their tickets until Friday, for some reason.

Still others rely on the books in front of the counter with names such as Lady Luck, Double Red's Numbers Bible and The Whiz Almanac that promise winning numbers based on a player's astrological signs, personality traits and the like.

I looked for a book called Sure-Fire Numbers for Winning $200 Million, but couldn't find one. So I forked over two bucks and had the machine spit out two tickets with random numbers; I needed to get in on the action, too.

To hell with the long odds. It was a good morning to think about tropical islands and rum drinks with little umbrellas.

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