Californians line up for lottery tickets as Mega Millions jackpot hits $1.2 billion

Cindy McAdoo-Stewart drove from Lancaster to buy Mega Millions lottery at Bluebird Liquor in Hawthorne.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

After no ticket was sold for Tuesday’s jackpot, the top prize has been pushed to $1.28 billion for Friday’s drawing, making it the second-largest jackpot in the game’s history.

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A Mega Millions lottery ticket: $2.

The payout: a whopping $1.28 billion.

This would make it the second largest jackpot in the game’s history and the third largest lottery drawing overall, officials said. This comes after no winning ticket was sold for Tuesday’s $830-million drawing.

The cash option now sits at $747.2 million, Mega Millions officials announced Friday.

“We are thrilled with the opportunity Mega Millions provides to retailers, players and good causes throughout the country,” Ohio Lottery Director Pat McDonald, current lead director of the Mega Millions Consortium, said in a news release. “The Mega Millions group, and indeed much of the country, look with anticipation for tonight’s drawing.”

There’s about a 1-in-303 million chance of winning the jackpot, according to Mega Millions.

Blue Bird Liquor store in Hawthorne is considered one of the luckiest lottery shops in the state. Dozens of residents from across Southern California headed there Friday morning to try to maximize their luck.

The liquor store’s line wrapped around the block Friday morning.

Cindy McAdoo-Stewart, 62, left her home in the Antelope Valley about 6 a.m. in order to beat the line.

“I heard about Blue Bird some time ago, so I came from Lancaster. I picked my mother up and I said, ‘Let’s try our luck and let’s go to Blue Bird,’” McAdoo-Stewart said.

If she were to win the historic jackpot prize, she plans to take care of her family and donate 10% of the money to her church.

McAdoo-Stewart purchased $6 worth of tickets for herself, and her mother, Mary McAdoo, bought $8, noting that “it only takes one ticket.”

Mike Dietz, 46, made a two-hour trek from Riverside to buy $40 worth of lottery tickets at Blue Bird. Dietz, who used to live in Hawthorne, said that the drive was worth it to try to win the billion-dollar prize. This is his first time ever buying a lottery ticket.

“I’m here to try to hit this billion dollars and share the wealth with all my family and friends and any charity I can and live a healthy life,” Dietz said.

George Vazquez, 67, noted that he waited in a 45-minute line at Blue Bird in hopes of becoming a millionaire — not a billionaire, he said, because he is “willing to share.”

Vazquez, a self-proclaimed “animal lover” who owns an English bulldog and three chihuahuas, hopes to help get animals off the streets if he wins the jackpot prize.

“If I win the whole thing, I want to open up a sanctuary for dogs and cats — have a place for them to live and eat,” Vazquez said. “I don’t like seeing [animals] walking the streets without food or water, so I would like to take care of them.”

Vazquez also assured that each of his 10 kids and 14 grandchildren “will get a piece” of the prize.

The jackpot has been rolling over since April, with no one winning the top prize. In 2022 alone, four Mega Millions jackpots have been in California, New York, Minnesota and Tennessee. The highest jackpot so far this year was $426 million, won by Kristen Wellenstein with a ticket purchased in Woodland Hills on Jan. 28.

Ngamako Patra buys her Mega Millions lottery tickets in Hawthorne with Friday's jackpot over $1 billion.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Despite difficult odds, companies are also hedging their bets.

After spending $100,000 on Tuesday’s drawing and not getting lucky, Raising Cane’s co-Chief Executive AJ Kumaran said that the company is dropping the same amount for today’s drawing.

If one of their tickets is a winner, the leaders of the company plan to split the billion-dollar prize evenly among its employees, meaning each worker would receive about $13,000.

"[We’re] hoping one of these tickets works as hard as our crew members do,” founder and co-CEO of the company Todd Graves said on Twitter.

As people get ready to buy their tickets today, experts and the Mega Millions company caution them to be aware of possible scams.

Aura, a personal digital security and identity theft protection company, works to identify various scams, including those that are lottery-related.

According to Aura’s chief scientist and cyber security expert Zulfikar Ramzan, lottery scams are most common through official-looking emails, texts or phone calls that claim you have won the lottery. Usually, they ask for a small prepayment, sometimes claiming it will cover the taxes.

Then “the scammer goes dark, and the “lottery winnings” never come,” Ramzan said.

The Mega Millions company assures that no representative of the company will ever contact anyone about winning a prize.

“All Mega Millions members encourage responsible play — please enjoy the opportunity to play the game while keeping your play in balance,” the company said in a news release.

Scams also occur through fraudulent websites claiming to sell tickets online. Scammers might also reach out and claim to have won the prize, Ramzan said. They then claim to want to donate some of the money and often ask for personal or financial information, which they can use to drain money from your accounts.

“Before signing up with Aura, one of our customers was contacted by a ‘lottery winner’ after a recent large jackpot saying that he was giving away a large sum of money,” Ramzan said. “After giving away financial information to receive the funds, the scammer placed thousands of dollars in charges to a debit card, putting the caller’s account in the negative.”

Ramzan said there are many ways to avoid lottery scams. He encourages people to buy tickets only from authorized stores for the standard price and to watch out for scammers who reach out claiming they have won a prize.

Ramzan also warns against divulging sensitive information to unknown numbers or email addresses.

“Scammers will use the lottery as a way to get you to buy false tickets for a lower cost. Lottery tickets are set at a standard price. If someone is offering to sell you an “official lottery ticket” at a discounted price, it is most likely a scam,” Ramzan said.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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