Longleigh Mclean holds up the Mega Millions ticket he bought… (LLoyd Fox, Baltimore Sun )
Thursday's bustling lunchtime crowd at Lexington Market included a steady stream of customers at several lottery stands, with some hoping to cash in on a Mega Millions jackpot that has reached $312 million.
Stacie Houck, who manages Lexington Liquors, said the big jackpot has helped attract more customers to the shop, which is located in a corner of the market near an exit and receives heavy foot traffic. Over the course of an hour during the afternoon, she sold Mega Millions and other lottery tickets to a dozen or so customers.
"The jackpot brings them in," she said of her customers. "They play it a little more when it gets high."
Jung Cho, who owns a fish shop in the market, stopped by a lottery stand in the market and bought 20 Mega Millions tickets, an unusual event for him, he said.
"Sometimes I play the big one," he said.
Originally set for $304 million, the jackpot estimate was revised upward Thursday because of healthy ticket sales, lottery officials said. Lottery directors decided in a morning conference call to increase the jackpot; the next drawing is at 11 p.m. Friday.
Winning the jackpot is a long, long shot. The odds of matching all six numbers are approximately 176 million-to-1, while the National Weather Service says the odds of being struck by lightning in a given year are approximately 500,000-to-1.
But that hasn't deterred players from taking a $1-a-ticket shot at the lottery, which covers 41 states, as well as the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
"The sales are better than anticipated," said Carole Everett, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Lottery. A particularly high Powerball jackpot of $125 million is also encouraging people to buy, she said.
"Lottery's on the brain, so people will be out and about buying," she said, adding that lottery customers seem to get particularly excited when the jackpot surpasses $300 million, which has happened six times. The highest Mega Millions jackpot was $390 million in 2002.
"When it gets this big, the cool thing is a lot of people will pool their resources, get together and buy tickets as a group," Everett said, who added a note of caution about that strategy.
"Be very specific," she urged. "Write the names down of every person who's playing, have them sign something. Play it smart, so there's no controversy. You just want to make sure you're all on the same page, so to speak."
Most of the buyers on Thursday afternoon said they were lottery regulars, although they acknowledged the extra allure of a high cash prize.
"Whatever the jackpot is, I'm playing," said Al Vessells, 45, a machine operator for Hedwin Corp. "There's always that possibility, that it might be my turn."
Vessells said he plays lottery games every other week and typically picks his numbers based on birthdays, addresses or the current calendar date.
Jennice Gardner, a 38-year-old stay-at-home mom, was in Lexington Market on Thursday to buy balloons for her son's birthday. She stopped by Lexington Liquors and bought her usual — scratch-off tickets, which make up the biggest portion of Maryland lottery sales — though she said her husband plays the Mega Millions more frequently when the jackpot grows larger.
For some, the lottery — no matter the size of the prize — offers a potential escape from a difficult situation.
Longleigh Mclean, 62, approached the lottery counter with the help of a cane. He said he broke his leg last summer, an injury that interrupted his career as a welder.
Mclean, a Baltimore resident, said he plays the lottery "almost every day," and when told the size of the Mega Millions jackpot, he promptly returned to the counter and bought three tickets, though he said he recognized the long odds.
"You lose more than you win," he said. "I'm waiting to hit the big one."
Baltimore Sun reporter Chris Kaltenbach contributed to this article.
Current Mega Millions jackpot: $312 million, annuitized over 26 years
Amount you'd receive annually, after taxes: $7.9 million
Amount you'd pay annually in taxes: $4.1 million
Amount you'd receive as a lump-sum payment, after taxes: $130.3 million.
Number of Mega Millions jackpot winners from Maryland: 13
— Chris Kaltenbach