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Ticket sales boom as lotto hits record jackpot

COVINGTON -- The largest jackpot in lottery history has locals lining up to purchase tickets, with some shelling out as much as $100 at a pop for a chance to be a multi-millionaire.

Friday night's Mega Millions jackpot hit $540 million Thursday morning. Brisk sales prompted lottery officials to raise the jackpot by $40 million less than 24 hours after lottery officials announced it had reached the half billion mark.

At Raceway on U.S. Highway 278, manager Ritesh Rajyaguru said lines are longest in the evenings after customers get off work, often stretching to the door. He said many folks are buying multiple tickets, some as many as 50 or 100.

"A lot of people that have never played the lottery and have no idea (how to play) are playing. The chance is really rare, but you never know," Rajyaguru said.

Kelly Clark of Decatur was at Raceway around lunchtime. Clark said she had a meeting in Covington and thought she'd try buying a ticket somewhere different from her usual spot. She said she usually only plays when the jackpot gets up to $150 million. And what would she do if she won?

"I'd quit my job," Clark said. "I'd pay off all my student loans and pay off all my family's houses and pay for my honeymoon."

Deborah Johnson of Covington said she'd make donations to churches and go door to door in neighborhoods handing out cash to those in need. Also, "I'd set up my kids and grandkids for life," she said.

Johnson said she plays the lottery "just when I have the notion." She knows the odds of hitting the jackpot, at 1:175 million, aren't in her favor.

"Most of the time, somebody up north wins anyway," she said.

But those incredible odds didn't stop Michelle Lackey from plunking down $50 for 50 tickets.

"I'd take care of my kids and grandkids and my mom," Lackey said, adding that she'd buy herself a new car and a new house and invest the remaining money.

Buddies Denver Spieth and Buddy Bellew both said they're planning to buy one ticket.

"Just one. It only takes one," said Spieth, who added that if he wins he'll "probably relax for a little while."

Bellew dreams of opening a shelter for battered women and their children and providing access to recreation to kids who can't afford to play sports. Belleu said he hosts several barbecues a year to raise money for the Newton County Recreation Commission.

"Every kid deserves to play ball," he said.

As for himself, "I'd buy me an island and say no clothes allowed so nobody would come bother me," he said.

Such fantasizing doesn't appeal to Kristin Cleveland, also of Covington.

"I do not buy lottery tickets. It's a waste of money," Cleveland said. "When I was in the Army, my recruiter said it's stupid people paying for college for rich people's kids."

At Quick Trip on Ga. Highway 138 in Conyers, lottery tickets were selling about as well as the gas.

"It's been picking up dramatically with the change in the jackpot," said First Assistant Manager Jose Mendez. "I just can't imagine how (Friday's) going to be. I don't know how many rolls of paper we've gone through so far. People are buying more than usual. Some are buying 10 or 20 tickets."

The Mega Millions drawing takes place Friday at 11 p.m. Sales stop at 10:45 p.m. A $389 million prize will go to a single winner who takes the cash payout option. About a third of the remaining money would go to Uncle Sam in taxes. The annuity option will pay about $20 million annually over 26 years.

Mega Millions has rolled over 18 times since a College Park woman won $72 million Jan. 24.

This is the largest jackpot in lottery history, beating the 2007 record of $390 million, shared by two winners from Georgia and New Jersey.