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Record Powerball jackpot sends Nevadans packing to Arizona

Hundreds line up for their chance — or a pooled chance — at winning $550 million lottery prize

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

As the jackpot in the multi-state Powerball lottery passes $500 million, cashier Lynn Rosati sells tickets to Denise Trout at the Arizona Last Stop in White Hills, Ariz. Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2012. Trout was buying tickets for about 20 family, friends and office workers who had promised her a 30% cut if they won.

Updated Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2012 | 11:50 a.m.

Powerball Lottery Fever

As the jackpot in the multi-state Powerball lottery passes $500 million, hopeful ticket buyers queue up outside the Arizona Last Stop in White Hills, Ariz. Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2012. Launch slideshow »

Arizona Last Chance convenience store

After selling a car Tuesday morning, Thurston Simpson decided he’d take the rest of his day to head out to Arizona to buy a few lottery tickets for a chance at the $550 million Powerball jackpot.

But before Simpson could make it out the door, his co-workers at Fairway Chevrolet began reaching into their wallets, asking him to buy tickets for them, too. One co-worker even went to the bank to take out money.

“I said I’d buy as many as I can get,” Simpson said as he clutched a wad of $20 bills while standing in line outside of the Arizona Last Stop convenience store on U.S. 93, about 30 miles south of the Nevada-Arizona border.

Simpson was one of thousands of people who stopped to buy a chance at the record jackpot at the Arizona Last Stop convenience store, the closest spot to Las Vegas to buy lottery tickets.

The Powerball jackpot climbed to a record $500 million, $327 million in a cash payout, after nobody picked the winning numbers in Saturday’s drawing. It climbed again Wednesday to the current $550 million. The lottery operates in 42 states, Washington, D.C., and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Because Nevada does not operate a lottery, most of those in line at Arizona Last Stop, which at times stretched to 500 people with a two-hour wait, were from Las Vegas. A few miles down the road, hundreds more lined up at Rosie’s Den, where the wait was only about an hour to buy a ticket for Wednesday night’s drawing.

While many were buying tickets just for themselves, others, like Simpson, had pooled money with friends and co-workers and held scraps of paper delineating who was in and for how much.

The logic of pooling tickets is simple. More tickets equals more chances to win. But with the odds of a single ticket hitting the jackpot at 1 in 175 million, your chances of winning still are microscopic, whether you’re holding one ticket or 1,000, said David Schwartz, director at UNLV’s Center for Gaming Research.

“There’s so many tickets (out there) it doesn’t have a huge impact,” Schwartz said. “It’s still a very small chance.”

Schwartz said pooling holds a psychological appeal and that entering the lottery as a team helps bring people together.

“Instead of it being a zero-sum game where if one person wins everybody else loses, this is a case where everybody can think that everybody’s going to win,” he said. “I think they do it because they feel like it gives them more at stake. They’ve got something on the line. If you’ve only spent $2, you don’t have as much to lose.”

Most of the pools represented in the Arizona Last Stop line used a similar set of unwritten rules— each participant is given a photocopy of the lottery tickets and any winnings are split evenly.

“We trust each other,” said Paula Yakubik, who pooled money with her co-workers at Mass Media Corporate Communications and with a few others from her sister’s law firm. “My sister has all the tickets, She’s scanning them and sending them to us. We put it in an email that we’re all going to split it evenly.”

Yakubik said what each person would do with their share of the jackpot million has been a hot topic around the office for the last two days. The group of about a dozen people each contributed $20, enough to buy more than 200 tickets.

“It’s a way to have fun and pull together as a team,” she said. “There’s an email going around from someone who didn’t get her $20 in making sure we’ll take care of her if we win. Another girl said she’s already spending the winnings in her mind.”

Even though he doesn’t think he has a shot at winning, Dragan Pandic still made the drive to Arizona on his day off to buy 85 tickets for a pool of 17 co-workers at the Bellagio. The group pools money each month and picks a different person to make the drive to an out-of-state lottery store.

“It’s like when you come to a casino and go, ‘I’m going to win.’ Yeah right,” Pandic said with a laugh. “But more tickets equals more chances to win, and even if we split, we’re going to be fine with whatever we end up with.”

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