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South Mississippians ready for largest Powerball drawing in history

 As the Powerball jackpot has now increased to $800 million, stores such as the RaceTrac on Gause Boulevard in Slidell are expering long lines of lottery ticket buyers.
JEFF CLARK/SUN HERALD As the Powerball jackpot has now increased to $800 million, stores such as the RaceTrac on Gause Boulevard in Slidell are expering long lines of lottery ticket buyers.

SLIDELL -- The skies were gray and the fog was dense along Interstate 10 on Friday morning, but that didn't stop several South Mississippians from going on a buying frenzy. And they weren't snapping up discounted Christmas items. No, they were crossing the Louisiana line with the hopes of buying themselves into history.

The excitement around the multi-state Powerball Lottery, available in Louisiana, is palpable as the jackpot has increased in excess of $800 million, the largest lottery jackpot in history.

The prize hovered around $600 million Wednesday when the last drawing was held, but no winning ticket was sold. The next drawing will be held at 9:59 p.m. Saturday, so time is short to buy your ticket.

Then the prize increased about $100 million within 48 hours. So it's not surprising the parking lot of the RaceTrac gas station on Gause Boulevard off 1-10 was packed with vehicles sporting Mississippi license plates Friday.

By Saturday, officials predicted the prize would reach $1 billion by the time of the drawing.

And "Powerball fever" has meant huge business for the store.

"RaceTrac experiences a significant increase in Powerball sales across our footprint when the jackpot is this large," RaceTrac Communications Director Ashley Womack said. "Foot traffic is especially high in Slidell as many guests cross the Mississippi state line to try their hand at winning the largest jackpot in U.S. history."

She said RaceTrac's Slidell station is doing record Powerball business.

"The RaceTrac in Slidell has more lottery sales than any store company wide and is one of the busiest lottery retail locations in the state of Louisiana." she said.

The chance at winning just short of a billion dollars is enticing to Powerball "pros" and novices alike.

Shelby Smith, a Picayune mother of two, said she had never bought a lottery ticket before Friday.

"But this jackpot is so big. I decided to get some. I'm going to pay off some debt if I win," Shelby of Picayune said.

For Shamala Stephenson of Saucier, the lure of the enormous jackpot was enough to get them back in the lottery game.

"I haven't bought lottery tickets in a while but I'm excited about this Powerball jackpot," she said. "I'm going to buy me another house if I win and help other people in the family that needs help."

Stephenson said she is not concerned about the "lottery curse," an urban myth that winning the lottery could bring about great misfortune.

"I think I can handle spending my money," she said.

Though all lottery participants have their own dreams of how they'd spend their winnings, William Morgan, a Hancock County deputy in Slidell on Friday, said he just wants to retire. Again.

"I want to retire for the second time," the patrolman said. "I've never (bought a Powerball ticket before. My wife thought it would be worth us taking a shot."

The chance of winning the jackpot, in which all six numbers match, is very low.

But Kimberly Chopin, lottery director of communications, said there is some good news with the increasing jackpot.

"The odds in winning are 1 in 292.2 million," Chopin said. "But the odds of winning do not change as the jackpot grows. The chances of winning are the same."

According to the National Weather Service, the chance of a person being struck by lightning is 1 in 960,000 and the chance of seeing someone struck by lightning is 1 in 1,200.

When asked if he was concerned that he had a greater chance of being struck by lightning than winning the Powerball drawing, Morgan said it did not faze him.

"I work at the sheriff's office," he said. "I have a better chance of getting shot than winning the lottery."

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