Soaring jackpots bring back local lotto players despite pandemic

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RIVERSIDE, Mo. — No one won Tuesday’s Mega Millions, which will bring Friday’s jackpot to $750 million, the second largest prize in the game’s history.

Wednesday’s Powerball was $550 million making it only the second time in history both jackpots are worth more than half a billion dollars.

But it’s the first time it’s occurred during a pandemic. At a time when everyone has been encouraged to keep an eye on their temperature for fevers, with these big jackpots it seems everyone has lotto fever. 

“I was just driving over here and saw the sign and it said $750 million, and I thought I got to come in and buy a ticket,” Steve King said as he was picking up tickets at Riverside’s Red X store.

“We’ve had lines that have gone all the way over to the wine department here in the last week week and a half as the jackpots have grown,” Heather Schaefer, Red X assistant general manager, said.

But that hasn’t been the case throughout the pandemic.

With each jackpot’s odds around 300 million to 1 some players have realized they likely have a much better chance of catching COVID-19 buying their ticket than striking it rich. With fewer people playing, it’s taken four months to build those big Mega Millions and Powerball jackpots. 

“We haven’t seen a jackpot like this in a while, and me and my brother was talking about maybe not as many people were playing, not having that extra cash on hand,” Craig Reese said.

Missouri has only calculated sales for its fiscal year that ended in June, but still saw draw games sales down $70 million or 16 percent. Lotto sales are a big driver of getting people into stores like Red-X to do more shopping, so they’re happy to see people already spending that money in their head.

“I’d put all my nieces and nephews and grandkids through college. There’s no way you can spend that much money so why not have fun spreading it around,” Lori Sand said.

Some customers said a jackpot would pay off their debts from 2020 and a whole lot more. Sure, winning is unlikely.

“But eventually somebody has to win, so maybe tonight’s the night,” Tara Mays said.

People in a handful of states don’t have to worry about coronavirus trying to hit these jackpots. They have online sales. But here in Missouri and in Kansas you have to buy lottery tickets at a licensed retailer. Sales are cash only, with Powerball and Mega Millions each costing $2.

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