Lines everywhere as North Forkers buy Mega Millions tickets

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Customers flocked to the Hallmark Card & Gift store owned by Allen Patel next to the King Kullen in Riverhead Friday afternoon.

One in 175.7 million.

Those are the odds to win Friday night’s $640 million Mega Millions jackpot, the largest lottery jackpot in world history. But don’t tell that to the thousands of customers who poured into stores across the North Fork Friday for the chance to win big.

For these lottery players, many of them playing for the first time, it’s not about the odds, but the dream.

“This is the first time I’m playing Mega,” said Rose LaBarca of Riverhead while she waited in line at the Hallmark store on Route 58 in Riverhead. She held up her ticket with bubbles filled in to match her children’s birthdays. “I didn’t even know how to do this, someone had to tell me.”

Gas stations and grocery stores from Riverhead to Greenport reported higher than usual turnouts, both from regulars and first-timers, ahead of tonight’s 11 p.m. drawing.

Qamar Zaman, a store manager at the 7-Eleven in Greenport said he had more than 1,000 people come into his store Thursday to buy tickets, and hasn’t counted the number who came in so far Friday. Mr. Zaman said he hasn’t seen lotto fever like this in years.

“Before there was that Powerball lottery, but this time it’s crazy people,” he said.

Allan Patel, who owns the Hallmark store in Riverhead, said he has never seen turnout like this in the 12 years that he has owned the store.

“A lot of people are hoping to win,” he said. “They say, ‘That much? Let me play!'”

Mr. Patel decked his store in streamers and signs and told each of the thousands of customers as they walked in the door that his store is “lucky;” several years ago, the location sold a $250,000 Mega Millions second place ticket.

Riverhead resident Maria Hand, who was playing with her sister Ms. LaBarca, said she hoped the luck would rub off, but added she was mostly playing for the fun.

“It’s fun to have a dream,” Ms. Hand said as she filled out her ticket. “And then just pray a lot.”

The drawing is scheduled for 11 p.m.

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