'Everybody's feeling a little luckier': Michiganians try for $1.28B Mega Millions jackpot

Hannah Mackay
The Detroit News

Forget Mega Millions. Regular lottery players and first-timers are flocking to Michigan markets and gas stations for a shot at a cool mega-billion.

Despite a 1 in 302.5 million chance at Friday's $1.28 billion jackpot, regional store owners and state lottery officials said Thursday that the huge prize is attracting a lot of new or infrequent customers ahead of the 11 p.m. drawing.

The jackpot was increased Friday afternoon and has ballooned to the second largest in Mega Millions history — behind $1.5 billion prizes won in 2018 and 2016 — because nobody has matched the six selected numbers in the past 29 drawings. There has been no big winner since April 15.

"A billion dollars is something you can't even imagine," said Elaine Kitts, an 80-year-old Dearborn Heights resident who was purchasing tickets Thursday at a Dearborn party store. "... I'm not saying I'm feeling lucky; hopeful would be a very good word."

Rafid Garbo, left, co-owner of Amori's Liquor in Madison Heights, watches customer Ron Keizer flash his Mega Millions tickets on Thursday, July 28, 2022. Metro Detroit sellers and Michigan Lottery officials are reporting a big uptick in sales as the jackpot surpassed $1 billion ahead of Friday night's drawing.

More:Where Michigan's Mega Millions and Powerball winners have bought their tickets

The Mega Millions jackpot also has jumped consistently over the last several days, said Jacob Harris, Michigan Lottery player relations manager. He said he would not be surprised if it jumped again Friday based on ticket sales around the country.

The billion dollars is prompting a stampede of buyers.

"It's just high foot traffic constantly," said Bruce Alwaaeoe, 27, who works at a Citgo gas station in Dearborn. "Where it's at right now ... it's kind of ridiculous. It kind of sells itself."

Jackpots worth $20 million to $200 million typically generate around $1 million in sales per drawing in Michigan, Harris said. In comparison, the most recent Mega Millions drawing on Tuesday brought in $13.5 million in Michigan sales.

"We certainly see a more casual player want to get in the game at that point," Harris said. "Retailers earn about 7.8% ... on all lottery sales. That's an average. And then if you're talking about jackpot winning tickets ... they receive a $50,000 bonus commission for selling that ticket."

Jordan Sigler, a manager of Eagles Market in Ypsilanti, said he is familiar with the exponential increase in lottery ticket purchases as the jackpot grows. 

"A lot of the uptick is actually people I usually don't ever see, and they randomly stop in," Sigler said. 

Alwaaeoe agreed the large prize was bringing in new customers buying tickets for the first time. "I get people and introduce them into the game because it's such a high jackpot currently, and I mean, you never know," he said.

While many players still prefer to play or buy in-person, online lottery ticket sales have increased since they were introduced in 2014, mirroring retail sale trends, the Michigan Lottery's Harris said. Online sales account for less than 10% of overall annual sales, he said. 

"They're a small part of our overall sales," he said. "It has really helped generate some awareness of the lottery overall and, with that, has helped retailers achieve record commissions over the last several years."

The $1 billion jackpot is also enticing customers to spend more for a chance at instant wealth.

Regular lottery players are buying more tickets and playing more numbers than usual, said Kirhby Baalbaki, 22, who works at a Valero gas station in Detroit. The average customer is spending around $5 more on lottery tickets than they were a month ago, he said.

"We've had a lot of new customers and the old customers are playing a lot more numbers," Baalbaki said. "I feel like everybody's feeling a little luckier."

The last lottery prize to break the $1 billion mark was won by a Michigan resident in January 2021. 

Plymouth resident Elias Konja manages and owns Mike's party store in Dearborn Heights and said it's been nearly 25 years since his store sold a big winning ticket. He said the lottery has been so popular in the last several weeks, some customers may be burning through all their money before a winner is drawn.

"A lot of people are playing," Konja said. "The last two weeks people have spent money on the lottery. They think they're gonna hit it."

Walt Sovania bought a Mega Millions ticket from Konja in Dearborn Heights and said his winnings would largely go to his family first, including his great-grandchildren and then to charity.

"Oh naturally, I'd give it to family first. That goes down to great-grandkids. And I'd probably give a lot to charity," he said.

Rafid Garbo, co-owner of Amori's Liquor in Madison Heights, hands over Mega Millions tickets to customer Matthew Krupitzer on Thursday. The store owner that sells the winning Mega Millions ticket receives a $50,000 commission, according to the Michigan Lottery.

For Alwaaeoe, every new customer is a potential big winner. 

"I think it's my turn next to give somebody a winning ticket," he said. "If I sold the winning ticket here, honestly, it'd feel great for me because that would make someone a millionaire."

Or potentially a billionaire if the pot keeps growing. The cash option is currently $648.2 million.