In Johnston County this week, the greatest fortune ever given away could be found alongside beef jerky and soda.
Residents here joined the rest of the nation in chasing the $1.6 billion Powerball jackpot, collecting $2 daydreams from convenience stores and other retailers.
Those dreams ranged from being free of bills and mortgages to buying a dozen houses and taking a trip to Hawaii. Before taxes, Wednesday’s jackpot was more than enough to run Raleigh for a year and Johnston County for six, but not surprisingly, no one offered to operate government with their winnings.
Barbara Lee played the lottery for the first time, drawn by the size of the jackpot to buy a ticket at the Clayton Mart in downtown Clayton.
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“I’d like to pay the bills and travel,” Lee said. “Mostly to visit relatives.”
Lee wasn’t worried about those relatives hitting her up for a piece of her winnings, saying she’d gladly spread her wealth.
Clayton construction worker Ash Lipscomb bought five tickets, looking to trade in his hard hat to become a real estate mogul. Despite the presumed fortune that could take him anywhere in the world, he said he would still call Johnston County home.
“I’d still live here, but maybe in 10 or 15 different homes,” Lipscomb said. “I’d lay low.”
The argument against playing the lottery is the astronomical odds facing the would-be wealthy. Statisticians note that lottery players have a greater chance of being struck by lightning than correctly picking six numbers. Lipscomb was undeterred, though, and said he would not be modest in using his windfall.
“I’d spend it all, every bit of it,” he said. “I just thought I’d take a chance. I mean, someone has to win. If it’s that much, you have to try. If anyone asked me for money, I’d give it to them.”
At the Smithfield Exxon on West Market Street, Krystee Chase bought five tickets, using a bit of loving randomness for three of them.
“I let my kids pick the numbers,” she said. “I just asked them to tell mommy some numbers they liked.”
Ed Burfield of Smithfield thinks the secret to winning lies in geography, not in numbers. To him, it’s not matter of picking the right numbers but being in the right place at the right time. He traveled around and beyond Johnston County to buy tickets and even ventured into Virginia.
“It might not make sense, but you hear about people winning who aren’t anywhere close to here,” Burfield said. “I’m just trying to spread out my odds. It don’t take but one ticket.”
It might take just one ticket, but Johnston County’s weeknight gamblers tried to hedge their bets, generally buying more than one ticket and some as many as 100 in an attempt at bettering their 1 in 292 million odds of winning.
Clayton Mart owner Khalid Muslah said practically everyone coming in the store bought a ticket. “Everybody dreams,” he said. “For a lot of people, this is the first time they’ve played.”
At the Kangaroo Express on U.S. 70 Business in Clayton, clerk Teresa Chester said most people bought 10 or 20 tickets, though she had seen people spend a few hundred dollars.
As for her, once she’s off the clock, she buys her ticket.
“I’ll be on my own private island, with no cell service so no one can call me,” Chester said.
Drew Jackson: 919-553-7234, Ext. 104; @jdrewjackson