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Just call it Mega billion: Lottery fever grips Long Island

The record $1 billion Mega Millions jackpot had Long Islanders flocking to get their tickets before the Friday night drawing. 

Liz Jackson of Roosevelt shows her Mega Millions

Liz Jackson of Roosevelt shows her Mega Millions tickets purchased at MS Stationery in Franklin Square on Friday. Photo Credit: Jeff Bachner

The winning numbers drawn in Friday night’s $1 billion Mega Millions jackpot were 15, 23, 53, 65 and 70. The mega ball was 7.

Mohamed Azam has noticed more than a few unfamiliar faces streaming into his North Valley Stream convenience store this week hoping lightning strikes twice.

Azam’s shop, Linden News and Convenience on Linden Boulevard, sold a winning $1 million Mega Millions ticket earlier this week. With the Mega Millions jackpot reaching a record $1 billion for Friday night’s drawing, Azam said customers who heard about the shop are hoping history repeats itself.

“People are very excited,” he said. “They think my store is lucky.”

The $1 million ticket — among eight second-place prizes sold nationwide — has yet to be claimed, according to a spokeswoman for the State Gaming Commission, which operates the New York Lottery.

With no one winning Tuesday’s $667 million prize, Friday night’s $1 billion jackpot became the largest Mega Millions prize ever and the second largest total in U.S. history, spurring frenzied ticket-buying at the end of the workweek.

The largest-ever American lottery jackpot was a $1.58 billion Powerball game in 2016. The previous record Mega Millions jackpot was a $656 million prize in 2012 shared by winners from Kansas, Illinois and Maryland.

The last person to claim the Mega Millions grand prize was Richard Wahl of Vernon, New Jersey, who nabbed a $533 million jackpot on March 30.

The immediate cash value of Friday night’s Mega Millions ticket is $565.6 million, or the winner could choose to be paid out in increments over 29 years.

But don’t buy that 60-foot yacht or Maserati just yet.

The Gaming Commission says the odds of winning the Mega Millions jackpot are one in 302,575,350. To put that in perspective, the U.S. Census Bureau says the country’s population is nearly 329 million — meaning the odds of scoring the winning ticket is nearly as good as picking any American citizen at random.

But that’s not stopping Long Islanders from dreaming big — and even tilting the long odds in their favor.

Through a Facebook mom’s group, Ali Kusinitz, 47, organized a pool of nearly 700 Old Bethpage and Plainview residents who consolidated their money to buy just under $7,000 in Mega Millions tickets.

The pool is also philanthropic. Each participant must pay $12 — $10 in lottery tickets and $2 that will go to a yet undetermined charity. And if the group doesn’t win it big, any small winnings will be pooled and donated to charity. In 2016, the group split $1,000 in winnings  among four local nonprofits, she said.

“It’s a fun great way to bring the community together,” said Kusinitz, of Old Bethpage, who organized a similar pool in 2016 when the Powerball jackpot exceeded $1 billion.

And while the odds may be slim, the chance to become an instant billionaire was too irresistible for some Long Islanders.

“I’d buy a new house, car and give some money to my family,” said John Reyes of Mineola, who purchased $10 in tickets at the 7-Eleven on Old Bethpage Road in Old Bethpage. “I mean, you never know, right?”

Hopefuls who walked into The Write Stuff & More on Walt Whitman Road in Melville were just as optimistic Friday night, right before the store was to close at 7 p.m.

Manager Marc Alperin said the store had logged 10 times the number of lottery tickets it normally sells.

“It’s been crazy all day,” he said as customers streamed in to buy Mega Millions and Powerball tickets, most spending between $10 and $20 on each game and some even uttering popular NY Lottery jingles of yesteryear.

“It takes a dollar and a dream,” said Huntington resident Letty Asia, an occasional lottery player who hopes to “build a foundation for poor people” in her native Philippines.

Wyn Mintz of Dix Hillrs was already a winner — but he wanted more.

Mintz walked into The Write Stuff and More with scratch-off tickets that were three months old but worth a respectable $60. He cashed those in and said he’d spend those winnings on dinner with his wife, minus the $20 or so he spent on Mega Millions and Powerball.

It was all at her urging, he said.

“I think it’s crazy,” he said of the seemingly contagious lottery fever on Long Island. “My wife made me come.”

Like many people trying their luck, Diane Zorn of Melville said she doesn’t play often —only a couple of times a year.

“I only play when it’s big like this,” she said, setting the jackpot threshold for her to fork over $6 to $10 at $300 million or so.

“You always feel lucky, right?” she said before making her purchases, as Alperin’s machine punched out even more tickets. “If you don’t feel lucky, what’s the point in playing?”

Friday night's Mega Millions drawing marks the second-largest prize in U.S. history. 

The 10 largest U.S. winning jackpots and the states where the winning tickets were sold:

1. $1.6 billion, Powerball, Jan. 13, 2016 (three tickets, from California, Florida, Tennessee)

2. $758.7 million, Powerball, Aug. 23, 2017 (one ticket, from Massachusetts)

3. $656 million, Mega Millions, March 30, 2012 (three tickets, from Kansas, Illinois and Maryland)

4. $648 million, Mega Millions, Dec. 17, 2013 (two tickets, from California and Georgia)

5. $590.5 million, Powerball, May 18, 2013 (one ticket, from Florida)

6. $587.5 million, Powerball, Nov. 28, 2012 (two tickets, from Arizona and Missouri)

7. $564.1 million, Powerball, Feb. 11, 2015 (three tickets, from North Carolina, Puerto Rico and Texas)

8. $559.7 million, Powerball, Jan. 6, 2018 (one ticket, New Hampshire)

9. $543 million, Mega Millions, July 24, 2018 (one ticket, California)

10. $536 million, Mega Millions, July 8, 2016 (one ticket, from Indiana)

Source: Associated Press

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