Published Friday, March 30, 2012 | 2 a.m.
Updated Friday, March 30, 2012 | 9:40 a.m.
The line started forming early Thursday, with hundreds of people showing up at sunrise at the Primm Valley Lotto Store for a chance — albeit a miniscule one — to turn $1 into half a billion dollars.
Over the next several hours, the line swelled to more than 1,000 people, each anxiously awaiting the chance to buy a ticket for the record $540 million Mega Millions lottery jackpot — which grew to $640 million as of Friday morning.
“Everybody’s out here for the same reason. It’s all about the money,” said Tina Webler, a North Las Vegas resident who arrived at 7:30 a.m., half an hour before the lottery store opened.
The lottery lunacy was in full effect by midday, with people eating lunch, reading books and fastidiously filling out lottery tickets as they waited in a line that snaked around the store and out around the parking lot of the adjacent outlet mall.
The mood was festive as people excitedly discussed how they would spend their jackpot winnings, even though they had to wait upwards of four hours to enter the red-and-white lottery building near the Nevada-California border.
“I’m good at spending money. I could think of a couple things to do with (the jackpot),” said Ronald Finkelstein, a Las Vegas transplant originally from Florida. “I’d buy a house and move back to Florida.”
Because Nevada does not participate in the multistate lottery, many Las Vegas residents made the 40-minute trip south. The long lines surprised some, while others lamented that they couldn’t buy the tickets locally.
But all held out hope that the long wait would lead to a big payoff, even if the odds are against them.
“It’s an incomprehensible amount of money,” said Rosemary Martz, who traveled to Primm after her shift at Bellagio ended at 7 a.m.
Martz, who was standing in line with her friend Rachel Gibbons, planned to buy 12 tickets.
“We figure if we’re lucky, this will do,” she said. “We work at a casino, so we know about odds.”
Fifteen miles past Primm in Nipton, Calif., the lines for lottery tickets were shorter, but only by a little.
Gerald Freeman, who owns the Nipton Trading Post, estimated more than 3,000 people purchased tickets Wednesday at the store, with the wait averaging about one hour.
“Yesterday was probably the busiest that I’ve seen it since 1991. There was a lottery jackpot of over $100 million then, which was the largest it had ever been at that time,” Freeman said.
According to a spokeswoman for the California Lottery, the odds of winning the Mega Millions jackpot are 1 in 176 million. Tickets cost $1 each, and players choose five numbers from 1 to 56, plus a Mega number from 1 to 46.
The jackpot drawing will be 8 p.m. local time Friday, with ticket sales closing around 7:45 p.m.
If a player matches all six numbers, he or she will have the option to take the jackpot in 26 annual installments of about $20 million or a lump sum of $462 million.
Throughout the line at the Primm Valley store, those waiting to buy a ticket clung to the notion that somebody had to win the prize and it might as well be them.
“We need the money; times are hard,” said Michael Weisbein, a Las Vegas resident who said he’d never before bought lottery tickets in Primm. “This morning I woke up and said to my wife, ‘Let’s go on an adventure.’ We don’t gamble, but every once in a while you’ve got to put yourself out there and see if you can get lucky.”