A trip to Australia. A bigger house. Two houses. That’s what people out at gas stations and convenience stores Wednesday afternoon were saying they would buy if they won the Mega Millions jackpot, now at a record high of $500 million.
It’s the largest lottery jackpot, including Powerball, in U.S. history. According to lottery officials, it may even rank near the top worldwide.
“Our phones have been ringing all day,” said Holli Armstrong, spokeswoman for the South Carolina Education Lottery. “Ticket sales have been brisk.”
Armstrong said the enormous payout is attracting both new and regular players wanting a shot at “an historic win.”
The odds of winning the jackpot are currently 1 in 175.7 million.
“South Carolina has never had a Mega Millions winner,” she said. “We have our fingers crossed that South Carolina will be the winner.”
As word that no one had won Tuesday’s multistate Mega Millions drawing began to spread throughout the Midlands, and that the jackpot had grown to record size, people began pouring in to neighborhood stores.
Store managers across Columbia said Wednesday sales were up but that their biggest day yet may be Friday, the day of the draw.
“It will get very, very intense Friday,” said Gladlyn James, store manager for the Murphy USA gas station on Garners Ferry Road.
Virginia Smith of Hopkins was a first-time buyer. She said she knew exactly what she would buy if she won.
“I’d buy a log cabin,” said Smith, who was with her daughter Stephanie. And while she also would take care of her daughter, maybe with a new car, her dream had to come first.
“I’ve even looked it up online,” she said. “I’ve looked at the different styles and everything.”
Kalvin McGowens of Lower Richland was also out buying a ticket at the Murphy USA station. Despite the odds, he was feeling particularly lucky given that a previous lottery winner, the Rev. Solomon Jackson Jr., from his neighborhood, had bought his ticket there. Jackson won a $259.9 million Powerball jackpot in 2009.
“Hopefully something good will happen to me,” McGowens said.
What would he do with the money?
“I would buy my mom a house,” he said. “Then I’d take care of my little girl. My princess. And I’d give some to charity.”
Would he take the lump sum?
“They take what, like, 15 percent, right? So yeah, I’d probably take the one payment,” he said. “You gotta pay your taxes.”
Actually, federal taxes would be about 25 percent, and state taxes come on top of that.
With a $500 million jackpot, a lump sum would be $359 million before taxes. The choice of annual payments over 26 years would amount to just over $19 million before taxes.
At the Corner Pantry on Assembly Street, Asia Caldwell was busy selling Pick 3, Pick 4, Powerball, and of course, Mega Millions tickets.
“I can tell sales are up,” she said. “Wednesdays are usually Powerball (days) but it’s been mostly Mega Millions today.”
Caldwell said the buzz started Tuesday and hasn’t stopped since.
Being so close to the university, the store sees a lot of students, professionals and this week, first-time players, she said.
All the excitement had her thinking. What would she do with a cool $500 million?
“I would help the poor,” she said. “And I might start my own business.”
What would you do with the winnings? Let us know in the comment section below.