Half-billion-dollar jackpot is oh, so tempting

EVERETT — More than 100 people had bought oodles of Powerball tickets by mid-afternoon Tuesday at the 7-Eleven store at the corner of Colby and Pacific avenues.

Each person who forked over $2 a ticket hopes he or she will have the winning numbers in the drawing tonight for the $500 million pot.

Yes, that’s a half-billion dollars, a world record lottery jackpot.

Should she win, Christine Varga plans to travel to a sunny location where she would hide out, giving herself time to wrap her head around how much money $500 million really is.

It’s hard to fathom, said Varga, 51, of Arlington.

“Eventually, I would buy some dry land for my horses, goats, dogs and pigs,” said Varga, who works in Everett. “And after that I would donate to programs that help homeless people.”

Varga also said she would have no problem paying the taxes on her winnings.

“I would like to see it all go to public schools,” she said.

Varga said she rarely buys lottery tickets and didn’t even know how much the tickets cost.

“I am not a frequent flier, but I sure would like to win this,” she said.

Mark O’Reilly, 59, of Lake Stevens, also took a break from his job in Everett to buy Powerball tickets at 7-Eleven. He spent $10 for five chances.

“I only play when the winning amount goes up like this,” O’Reilly said. “I know the odds are low, but $10 is worth the excitement. You can spend more money going to a show.”

Even after taxes or a lump-sum payout, the winnings from tonight’s Powerball jackpot would be “inconceivable,” he said.

“I would retire, help my kids, donate to church, you know, stuff like that,” O’Reilly said. “After that I really don’t know. It’s more money than I would know what to do with, but I am sure I would adapt.”

Like Varga, O’Reilly said he wouldn’t mind paying taxes on the money.

“Especially if it would help balance our federal budget,” he said.

A single winner of the jackpot who chose the cash option would take home more than $327 million before taxes.

Mandeep Gill, the cashier at 7-Eleven, took an informal poll of lottery ticket buyers on Tuesday, asking what they planned to do if they won.

“Most of them said I would never see them again because they would be moving to the Caribbean,” Gill said. “One woman said she would buy houses for everybody in Everett.”

Mike Zebley, 26, of Everett, stopped into the convenience store to pick up cigarettes and coffee. He doesn’t buy lottery tickets, Zebley said, for the simple reason that he believes he would never win.

“I have a better chance of getting hit by lightning,” Zebley said. “I plan to use my money for what can benefit me right now.”

The Powerball prize is the biggest ever offered by the game and second only to the $656 million Mega Millions prize in March, the largest jackpot in U.S. lottery history.

There has been no Powerball winner since Oct. 6, and if there is a winning set of numbers tonight, the odds are that more than one person will hold a ticket with those numbers. The chance of getting a winner today is approaching 60 percent, lottery officials said.

Of the $2 cost of a Powerball ticket, $1 goes to the prizes and the other dollar is kept by the state lottery organizations. After administrative overhead is paid, the remaining amount goes to that state’s beneficiary programs. The federal government keeps 25 percent of the jackpot for federal taxes.

Powerball and Mega Millions games are played in 42 states, Washington, D.C., and the Virgin Islands. The larger pool of players means jackpots roll over to higher numbers faster, which tends to increase the buzz about the jackpots, which increases sales.

Powerball has posted sales exceeding $714 million in the current jackpot run since early October, and it’s possible more than $1 billion in tickets will have been sold by the end of today when the next drawing is held.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427; gfiege@heraldnet.com.

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