From scratch: Area residents clamor for lottery tickets

Published 12:00 am Sunday, February 28, 2010

It’s Saturday night, and Dolly Hargrave needs her fix, a fix she’s needed for the last 14 years.

She’s a Louisiana Powerball player, and she’s never won more than $100, but Hargrave says that something keeps her coming back for more.

“It’s like an addiction,” she said. “You play and you play and you play, and you hope for that big hit.”

She never spends more than $10 a week on the $1 Powerball tickets and assorted scratch-off games the lottery sponsors, and Hargrave said she considers it a sort of bad habit.

“If you think about it, I guess that money adds up over time,” she said.

Since its inception 20 years ago, the Louisiana Lottery’s Powerball has grown in popularity, and the Miss-Lou has seen its share of big winners, including two who won more than $1 million.

And some people take the Powerball drawing very seriously.

“I have had a guy stand in the back of the store for 30 minutes trying to pick out numbers,” said LaToya Patterson, who works at the Vidalia B-Kwik, a store that has sold multiple big-winning tickets and is the regional leader in sales for the Louisiana lottery.

The game is simple: choose five numbers between one and 59, and one number between one and 39. For those who don’t want to choose their own numbers, there’s the quick pick option, which allows the lottery vendor’s computer to automatically generate a ticket for them.

Every Wednesday and Saturday, the Louisiana Lottery Corporation has a drawing in which five white numbered balls and one red numbered Powerball are drawn.

It’s a simple game, but B-Kwik clerk Beverly Bass said the chance of big winnings draws people back again and again.

“They play their numbers, their slips, they have to play every day because they feel like if they don’t play every day they have already lost,” Bass said.

B-Kwik manager Ursula King said she has seen people with their own little Lottery quirks.

“There are some people who come in and play the same numbers every time,” she said.

Others seem to sense an unseen guiding hand as they’re buying their tickets, and Bass said many lottery players will buy tickets anyway — or even someone else’s ticket — if the clerk makes a mistake when entering the numbers.

“They buy the mistake cards because they see it as fate,” she said.

Others make promises as they buy their tickets, Patterson said.

“We had one guy who promised he would give the girl who sold him the ticket some of the money if he won,” Patterson said. “He won $4,000, but he hasn’t been back.”

Some of the prizes are small. Someone who chooses the Powerball correctly wins $3; choosing one number and the Powerball correctly wins $4; choosing two numbers and the Powerball or choosing three numbers correctly wins $7.

Three numbers plus the Powerball or four numbers without the Powerball wins $100, and four correct numbers plus the Powerball wins $10,000.

The prizes associated with matching additional numbers and the Powerball escalate to $100, $10,000 and $200,000, but it takes correctly matching all five numbers and the Powerball to win the multi-million jackpot, which varies in value from drawing to drawing.

Small winnings can be claimed at any location that sells lottery tickets, and for the most part, that’s the winnings people walk away with. Someone has to beat one to 195 million odds to win the Powerball.

But when the stars align and someone wins a big prize, it can change everything.

One local winner who claimed a $1 million prize was reluctant to have his name associated with his big win because of the attention it brought to him.

“I started getting calls from people saying they were my children,” he said. “It just wasn’t good.”

But Natchez resident Fred Fuller, who won $1.43 million in 2001, said he didn’t have people crawling out of the woodwork to meet him after his win.

In fact, he said — aside from providing some financial comfort — winning big hasn’t changed his life all that much.

“It made it where I don’t have to go to work every day anymore, but I didn’t make any big purchases,” he said. “I basically live like I lived before I got it.”

At the time of his win, Fuller was working at International Paper, and after being off for two days, he returned to work on a Saturday and was told by a co-worker that someone had won the lottery and the ticket had been bought in Vidalia.

Fuller said he jokingly told the man he was the winner, borrowed the man’s newspaper, wrote the numbers down and went to work.

When he got home that night, he checked his ticket against the winning numbers and found that he had won.

“Man, I was just happy,” he said.

It’s the hope that they, too, can feel that happiness that brings people back to the game.

“Today, the Powerball is worth $51 million,” Patterson said. “Who wouldn’t pay $1 for $51 million?”

And after a pause, she continued, laughing.

“In fact, that sounds good —I’m going to play the Powerball as soon as I get off work.”