MANCHESTER — The powerful lure of a jackpot of more than $1.5 billion entices young, old, rich and poor to open their pockets and plunk down cold, hard cash.

Powerball ticket sales are skyrocketing, and buyers — many of them novices to the game — dream of chucking their work lives, buying their dream homes and racing off into the sunset in some exotic vehicle.

Their destination would be just far enough to outpace those seeking handouts and to avoid paying even higher taxes on the winnings.

All the while Tuesday, the jackpot ratcheted up and up, reaching $1.5 billion by early afternoon.

At a table at Mulligan’s, Sheila Hachey, 50, of South Portland, fanned out the seven Powerball tickets she had just bought as she had lunch with her sister.

Hachey outlined her plans if any of them proved the winner:

“I’m going to buy her a house and buy my daughter a new car and house and move in with my daughter,” she said. Hachey is still recovering from a stroke she suffered several years ago and had come to Winthrop for a visit with her doctor.

Hachey’s sister, Lisa McDonald, said the two women would return to South Portland and stop at several points along the way to buy more tickets prior to the drawing.

“What day are they doing it?” Hachey asked, adding, “I never buy tickets.”

She was not alone.

Inside Damon’s Quick Stop on River Road in Chelsea, Bobby Bryne of Augusta stopped in to pay for gas and asked, “How much is it to get a Powerball ticket?”

Cashier Cindy Rowe explained the ticket was $2 with an extra dollar for a Power Play, which increases the winnings for non-jackpot winners.

“You might as well give me one,” he said.

He too was a first-time participant.

“If I win, I’ll never work another day in my life,” he said. “I’d get away from the cold, pay off all my bills and live in retirement from age 26 on.”

Another cashier, Bonnie Frazee, said the tickets had been practically flying out the door since last week.

“I love to hear what people say they’re going to do with it,” she said. “It’s free to dream.”

Frazee said she took a call at 5 a.m. — when the store opens — from a woman who wanted to know if the store sold Powerball tickets. The woman came in shortly afterward to spend $15 for five tickets, all with the Power Play.

Donald Damon, one of the owners of the seven family-owned Damon’s stores that extend from Randolph to Skowhegan, said he bought a ticket as well.

“I never play, but for $1.4 billion, I’ll toss my hat in the ring,” Damon said.

The stores get a few cents on ticket sales and 1 percent — up to a cap — if they sell a big winner.

With no winner since November, Powerball — which is played in 44 states — has continued to grow to the unprecedented high of $1.5 billion with plenty of time left until the Wednesday night drawing. Sadly, the state of Maine does not appear under any of the big Powerball winners listed on the Powerball.com website.

“The largest Powerball prize ever won in Maine is $2 million,” according to a press release from the Maine Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages & Lottery Operations.

The most recent $2 million winner in Maine was in May 2015 in Bath.

TOUGH ODDS

Liam O’Brien, chairman of the Mathematics and Statistics Department at Colby College, who holds a doctorate in biostatistics from Harvard University, has not bought a ticket.

“I’m just not a gambler,” he said on Tuesday. “I will admit though that when the jackpot goes up this high, I do start to think about it. With Powerball jackpots that start to get to these numbers, you start getting all sorts of people who don’t normally play.”

That too increases the chances of having to split the jackpot with other winners. He said the odds of winning the jackpot remain about the same.

“There’s a certain number of combinations that allow you to win, and that is 292,201,338 combinations,” he said.

What does increase, however, is the possibility of having to share it.

O’Brien said the order of the first five balls doesn’t matter, but that the Powerball “adds an additional level of difficulty to winning.”

However, he offered a glimmer of hope.

“The odds of winning anything in Powerball are one in 25,” he said. “Most of those prizes are $4, and most people will buy more tickets with that. So instead of giving your $2 and walking away, you end up giving them $4 and they’ve made $6.”

He added via email, “While buying more tickets increases (albeit by a tiny amount) your chances of winning, it actually also increases your expected loss (because you’re spending more money to buy more tickets … which are highly unlikely to be winners).”

O’Brien said hope drives the lottery purchase.

“The hope that all of a sudden the next day you’ll wake up and be a millionaire or billionaire for (a $2 investment) is just too much of a draw,” he said. “What a way to start your Thursday or Sunday morning.”

He also talked about people joining a pool as a way to increase opportunity.

“The advantage of joining a pool is you have more resources to buy more tickets to get more numbers,” O’Brien said. “The disadvantage is you have to share.”

He recommended those pooling their resources for tickets have an agreement in writing.

BIG DREAMS

The owner of The Old Goat pub in Richmond is running a pool with regular customers and friends.

“Everybody kicks in 10 bucks, and we’ll share the winnings,” said Scott McIntire. “Right now (Monday) we’re up to 60 people. With a jackpot of $1.3 billion, if 100 people buy in, there’s $130 million each. We feel very confident that we will, in fact, win.”

He and some customers were debating a road trip to a western Maine convenience store owned by a former patron to get some of those tickets.

“We’d go at the last minute to get the pool as large as possible,” he said.

And if they win? “We’re simple folks here in Richmond. We just want a little better lifestyle,” he said.

Shop owners in the Waterville area said the $1.5 billion jackpot has boosted sales of Powerball tickets, although they are unlikely to see any of the profits unless they sell a winning ticket.

“It’s been ridiculous,” said Jill Castine, an employee at Jokas’ Discount Beverage in Waterville. “Almost every person that comes into the store buys one.”

In Oakland, Scott Bouchard, the owner of Oakland Redemption N’ Discount Beverage, also said sales of Powerball tickets have been up.

“It’s been very busy. There’s a lot of dreamers,” said Bouchard, who has also purchased a Powerball ticket and said that if he wins he plans to buy either Trump Palace or the Playboy Mansion.

“I figure $200 million will take care of that and the rest I can play with,” he said.

At Kennebec Market in Augusta, owners Ron and Ann Gurney said they too have seen an uptick in ticket sales with the higher jackpots. Ann Gurney bought two Powerball tickets.

“I like to get an EZ pick and one with my own numbers,” she said.

Other central Maine residents also speculated Tuesday on how they might spend the money if they win Powerball. Chris Bilodeau, 46, of Winslow, bought a ticket at College Quik Stop in Waterville. He doesn’t buy lottery tickets often, but said he does when “it’s big like this. It’s definitely unprecedented.”

When asked what he would do with the winnings, Bilodeau said, “It’s beyond my imagination. That’s a lot of goods, that’s for sure.”

“I think I would help out the homeless or people that are drug dependent,” said Laurie Guptill, 50, of Sidney. “I do need a new truck too, since my Tahoe is dying.”

Erik Hart, manager of College Quik Stop, said he’s bought about $60 worth of Powerball tickets.

“All I want is a house and two cars — that’s about one million dollars and the rest I would give away,” Hart said.

Morning Sentinel staff writer Rachel Ohm contributed to this report.

Betty Adams — 621-5631

[email protected]

Twitter: @betadams

 

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