The regulars at Cards and Things held their collective breath each time someone with an unredeemed Mega Millions ticket stepped to the counter: If the big winner wasn't one of them, they wanted it to be one of their own.
The half-dozen or so assembled Wednesday at midday were waiting for the one lucky person - or group of people - who suddenly was a lot richer for the holidays, thanks to a $162 million Mega Millions ticket lottery officials said had been bought at the Rocky Point store. Whoever holds the ticket is the largest-ever single ticket Mega Millions jackpot winner in New York and the largest Long Island winner in the history of the New York Lottery, officials said.
"All of us, on the way to work, come here every day," said Sharon Murray, a Rocky Point postal worker who is among those who stop by the Route 25A store every morning for a lottery ticket, smokes or a friendly hello. "It'd be very exciting to see if it's someone I know."
The winner in Tuesday's drawing, who state lottery spokeswoman Jennifer Givner said has not yet come forward, matched all six numbers - 3, 33, 35, 39, 45 - and the Megaball, 13. The winner played a Quick Pick and chose a lump sum, Givner said. The cash value of the lump sum is expected to be more than $100 million before taxes, she said.
It's not the first time a winning ticket was sold at the store. State lottery officials yesterday said on Dec. 15, 1993, the Lyon family of Bellport won a $7 million jackpot with a ticket purchased at the same location.
Sonny Zaveri, who said he has owned the store for 25 years, spoke while greeting regular customers and accepting congratulations. Selling the winning ticket means a $10,000 payout for his store, which is wedged between a Chinese restaurant and a liquor store in a strip mall. The money will pay bills, said Zaveri, who also owns stores in Miller Place and Ronkonkoma.
"It's really perfect timing . . . and I hope it's one of my regular customers," Zaveri said.
Veronica Young, who buys lottery tickets there every week, said she felt good for the owner.
"Sonny, he's a real sweetheart," she said.
Workers at Cards and Things spent much of Wednesday answering the same three questions: "Is it just one winner?" "Do you know who it is?" "Do you think they'll come in?"
The oft-repeated answers: "Yes." "No." "Doubt it."
The odds of the winner coming to the store Wednesday were, in fact, fairly low, but not lower than the odds of winning Mega Millions, which lottery officials put at 175,711,536 to 1. The prize can also be claimed at a lottery office in Garden City.
The twice-a-week drawing offered a $12 million prize on Nov. 13 that rolled over without a winner until Tuesday.
New York, one of a dozen states that participates, has had six Mega Millions winners this year, with two from Long Island: Janet Alnwick of Merrick won $22 million in January, and Isabel Zelaya of Wyandanch won $26 million in March.
The state's biggest Mega Millions winner was Jimmy Groves of the Bronx, who got $168 million as half of a $336-million jackpot on Aug. 28.
The record jackpot for the game was $390 million in March 2007, when two winning tickets were sold in Georgia and New Jersey.
Stony Brook resident Lou Koacci was among dozens buying tickets at Cards and Things Wednesday, hoping the Rocky Point store's luck would continue.
Koacci hit a $2 winner.
"Hey," he said, "it's better than nothing."