Lottery players hunched over store counters across Long Island on Saturday, scratching out lucky numbers, children’s birthdays, anniversaries.
But one number in particular loomed in their minds: $900 million, the amount of a record-breaking Powerball jackpot that swelled by $100 million just hours before the Saturday night drawing. The winning numbers were 16, 19, 32, 34, 57 with the Powerball 13.
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Some last-minute buyers were veterans who had been playing their lucky numbers for years. Others were newcomers tempted by the magnitude of the prize.
They talked of buying houses on the shore or cabins in the woods, of lavishing money on their families or their favorite charitable causes.
“You can’t refuse to be a billionaire, can you?” said Bruce Andersen, 53, of Ronkonkoma. He said he had spent $30 to $40 on Powerball tickets Saturday, including some at his “lucky store,” Nesconset Cards & Gifts.
He said his first act as a rich man would be to donate to Stony Brook University Hospital, whose neurological surgeons saved his wife when she had a brain aneurysm five years ago.
If no one matches all the numbers and wins the largest U.S. lottery prize in history on Saturday, the next drawing is expected to soar to $1.3 billion, according to the Multi-State Lottery Association, which runs the Powerball game.
About 65 percent of the possible number combinations will have been played by this weekend’s drawing, officials with the lottery association said.
“You can throw out the logic. You can throw out the statistics,” said Gary Grief, executive director of the Texas Lottery. “We’ve never seen jackpots like this. It’s a new experience for all of us.”
At a 7-Eleven in Glen Cove, customers paused to fill out tickets near racks of candy and fried food.
George Alvarado, 28, of Glen Cove was playing for just the second time in his life. He’d already given some thought to how he’d spend the winnings.
“Help my mom out, help out my friends, get a new car,” he said, laughing and patting a black sedan with some signs of wear and tear. “I’d also go back to school,” possibly to become an emergency medical technician, he added.
Paul Fahey, 53, of Glen Cove said he’s played the same set of numbers for years, though he doesn’t recall their significance.
“They’re numbers that meant something to me at some time,” he said. “I keep playing the same numbers because they’re as good as any numbers.”
Dean Pappas, 64, of Glen Cove had to think for a moment about what he’d do if the $2 ticket in his hand was a winner.
“I’d get a cabin up in Roscoe so I could fly fish,” he said, staring off down the sidewalk. “I’d help everyone in my family. I’m into sports. I’d build Little League fields around where they need them.”
Nesconset Cards & Gifts’ parking lot was packed in the afternoon, and the counter never stayed empty for long as people bought their chance at making history.
Toni Ann DiBiasi of Ronkonkoma, who was there with her two daughters, Megan, 11, and Samantha, 9, said it was a rare occasion; she never plays.
“I want a trampoline park,” Samantha said about what she would do with the winnings.
“I want an art studio,” Megan said.
Their mother had more practical ideas.
DiBiasi said she would pay off her house, pay for the girls’ college educations and “buy everybody I care about their houses. That’s what I’d want to do.”
Owner Nick Sheth said his store ranks 12th for lottery sales on Long Island. Among the cards, balloons, small gifts and porcelain figurines are three lottery machines and Quick Draw TVs where players can watch for drawings every few minutes.
No one in the store was buying incense or stuffed animals on Saturday; they were there to play Powerball. The rush started on Friday after the jackpot hit $800 million, Sheth said, and customers continued to stream in Saturday after it hit the new high.
Marie Gruick of Nesconset said she doesn’t play frequently, but couldn’t resist the jackpot. She called Nesconset Cards & Gifts a lucky store, saying her sister drives from Queens to Nesconset every two weeks to buy tickets — and it’s paid off with big winnings.
Gruick said the winnings would allow her to buy a house on the water, “so I could just sit on the porch and rock and watch the waves all day.”
On Long Island?
“No. Too expensive,” she said quickly. “Although, with the $900 million, I could probably afford it.”