Jumbo lottery jackpots putting spark in buyers' eyes

Neal Rubin
The Detroit News

Farmington Hills — Denyelle Cardwell came to Bella Vino Fine Wine and Spirits Monday because she wanted to make mimosas and left wanting to make millions. Of dollars, that is, not cocktails.

Cardwell is no stranger to wagering: She's a dealer at MotorCity Casino. But she said she had never bought a lottery ticket before the cashier rang up her orange juice and sparkling wine and mentioned Tuesday night's Mega Millions jackpot — an estimated $850 million prize with considerable sparkle of its own.

With Wednesday's $730 million Powerball jackpot making for $1.58 billion in combined top prizes, lottery retailers are reporting upticks in novice buyers, bulk buyers, and, of course, fantasies.

"The first thing I'd do is pay my tithe," said Cardwell, who lives in Farmington Hills. Next, she'd take care of her family. And she'd probably learn how to fill out a betting slip; on Monday, she needed hands-on coaching from Bella Vino owner Ronnie Jamil.

As for Jamil, he bought five $2 tickets of his own for each drawing. "I usually don't," he said. "When you work in a store, that can get you in trouble." But $850 million can also get you a lot of golf trips, with a private jet to whisk you to Pebble Beach.

Owner Ronnie Jamil helps Denyelle Cardwell of Farmington Hills fill out her Mega Millions betting slip Monday at Bella Vino Fine Wine and Spirits in Farmington Hills. Tuesday's $850 million jackpot enticed Cardwell to play the lottery for the first time.

The Mega Millions jackpot would be the third-largest lottery prize in U.S. history. The Powerball jackpot would rank sixth.

Since the two multi-state lotteries are separate entities, with Mega Millions drawn in Atlanta, Georgia, and Powerball in Tallahassee, Florida, the Michigan Lottery does not keep track of combined totals. But when three winners split a world-record Powerball jackpot of $1.586 billion on Jan. 13, 2016, the previous night's Mega Millions jackpot had been $15 million, for a total of $1.601 billion.

The Mega Millions and Powerball jackpots were last won in mid-September, with 35 subsequent rollovers boosting the jackpots from $20 million apiece.

"Once we get to this level, it's obviously a ton of cash," said Michigan Lottery spokesman Jake Harris. "Maybe people who don't typically pay attention are now more aware of it."

Chances of winning are remote, but enticing — sort of like Tahiti, where a winner might go after beating odds of 302 million to 1 for the Mega Millions prize or 292 million to 1 for Powerball. Winners must match five numbered white balls plus a sixth colored ball.

Each game offers a $1 million second prize for matching the five white balls, and four runner-up tickets have been sold in Michigan in the past week: One in New Haven for Friday’s Mega Millions drawing, and one apiece in Inkster, Jackson and Ypsilanti for Wednesday’s Powerball.

At Sutton Party Shoppe in Southfield, Marcus Miles of Detroit said the silver medal was not on his mind when he bought a bottle of ginger ale and one Mega Millions ticket.

"I do it every time the jackpot gets like that, around $500 million," he said. "I get excited."

A cook at an Italian restaurant, he said the half-billion-dollar threshold appealed to him because "You can change the world. You change your life. You see a bum in the street, you can change their life."

Taken as an annuity, Tuesday's jackpot would bring 30 payments averaging $28,333,333, with the first two up front. A lump-sum award, after federal and Michigan taxes, would be in the very nice neighborhood of $450 million.

Firas Kachal, who bought Sutton Party Shoppe with a partner three years ago, said he's seeing customers who typically ignore the lottery buying tickets now that the jackpots have reached headline-grabbing proportions.

Not everyone is swayed, however. A man with holes in his New Balance sneakers — the tops, not the soles — bought a losing $10 scratch-off ticket with a $500,000 top prize, double-checked it, threw it away, and bought another.

Bella Vino regular Troy Rogers of Farmington Hills bought peanut butter cups, spicy Cheetos and an array of Daily 3 and Daily 4 tickets Monday, with their maximum payouts of $500 or $5,000.

"That's where my luck is at," he explained. "The way things are going now, I don't think about what's going on next year. I think about today."

More typical, said cashier Simon Rotberg, are people who stack $20 bills on the counter and explain that they're investing for their bowling league, or for a band of Canadian friends stuck on the less lucrative side of the border.

The jumbo jackpots have been an antidote for the sales slump that hit the Mega Millions and Powerball games during the early months of the pandemic. While online sales were up 130% for the fiscal year that ended in September, Harris said, those two were off 25% and 48% through August.

Now they're roaring, Jamil said, and the sound is loud enough that Cardwell heard it.

"I'm a gambler," she said. "Just not the lottery. It's not my thing."

Or anyway, it wasn't before.


Twitter: @nealrubin_dn