CHERRY HILL, N.J. – When lottery jackpots get this high, the ticket-buying rituals get more elaborate.
Renee Mitchell of West Deptford buys tickets regularly. But when the jackpot hits $100 million, "That's when I really start spending money on it," she said.
Mitchell stopped by the Friendly Food Mart on Thursday to get 20 $1 tickets for the multistate Mega Millions (search) game, which will have a record jackpot of $290 million for Friday night's drawing. (The Big Game, a forerunner to Mega Millions, hit $331 million in 2002.)
Most players pick the cash option, which would pay $169 million up front rather than spread the full payout over 25 years.
Friendly Food Mart, where state Lottery Director Virginia S. Bauer (search) spent part of the day to promote the game, was the third stop on Mitchell's ticket-buying spree.
She said she'll probably have 100 tickets by the time the pingpong balls pop up with the winning numbers. But she lets the lottery computer choose her digits at random.
"My own numbers weren't very successful," said Mitchell, 49, a school social worker. "So I'll pick anybody else's numbers."
As of midday Thursday, Mega Millions tickets were selling across New Jersey at a clip of 3,600 per minute — about five times the normal rate, said lottery officials.
There was a steady flow of ticket buyers at Friendly Food Mart, but not much of a line.
Store owner Harry Patel said that would change Friday. He expected to have customers queuing up all the way into the parking lot.
Scott Brockway, 32, a welder from Columbus, N.J., who bought 20 tickets, is also an advocate of buying ducats in different places.
"I got them in Ohio, too," he said.
Thomas Cook strode to the counter with less cash to lay down, but plenty of confidence. "Five early retirement tickets, please," he asked Patel.
He said he usually gets drawn into playing when the jackpot climbs over $120 million.
A paltry $50 million jackpot isn't enough to risk the 135 million-to-1 odds against winning. "It's not enough," said Cook, 37, a customer service representative, who lives in Delanco. "I've got a big family."
And if he hits, he might learn about some long-lost cousins.