CARY – People throughout McHenry County lined up at gas stations and convenience stores Wednesday for a chance to win the $550 million Powerball jackpot, even against the slimmest of odds.
The drawing was shortly before 10 p.m. Wednesday and it likely will be today before it’s known whether someone from Illinois or the 41 other Powerball-licensed states can claim the prize.
Even the idea of having $550 million – roughly $360 million in cash after taxes – drove area residents to stores. Cashiers at the Thorntons gas station in Cary were busy doling out lottery tickets to lines of people Wednesday afternoon.
Mary Robbins of Grayslake said she couldn’t resist spending $2 on a ticket in the hope of winning the gigantic jackpot. She said she would use the winnings to build a dream house, open an animal shelter, travel and give at least $1 million to each family member.
“Somebody has to win. It might as well be me,” Robbins said. “It’s worth a shot.”
People have a far greater chance of being struck by lightning in their lifetime (1 in 10,000), dying from a bee sting (1 in 6.1 million) or birthing identical quadruplets (1 in 13 million) than winning Wednesday night’s drawing. Odds of winning were estimated at 1 in 175 million.
The Powerball jackpot has been growing since early October – the last time someone won. The Powerball payout would be the second-largest lottery on record, surpassed only by the $656 million Mega Millions jackpot in March. That prize was split three ways. One of the winners was Merle Butler of Red Bud in southern Illinois. He took home nearly $119 million.
As of Wednesday, an Oak Park family was the only Powerball jackpot winner in Illinois. That was in 2010 – the first year the state started selling Powerball tickets.
The jackpot in the latest drawing was raised to $550 million early Wednesday from $500 million because of “blistering” lottery sales, Illinois Lottery officials said. Over a 30-minute period around the middle of the day Tuesday, the Illinois Lottery sold more than $200,000 in Powerball tickets across the state.
At the Thorntons in Cary, general manager Pam Selemon said her lottery sales have nearly doubled since Tuesday.
Wednesday morning alone produced about $3,200 in ticket sales, Selemon said, and she expected the store would net between $10,000 to $13,000 by day’s end.
“It brings in more business,” she said. “They are going to stop and get gas, drinks and coffee. It definitely helps because people are buying more stuff.”
Selemon was one of three employees at the cash register helping manage lines of ticket-buyers. She handed two tickets to Betty Jankiewicz.
The elderly Cary woman said she would use the winnings on her family, especially because her husband died recently. But she didn’t deny she would use some of the money for herself.
“I would help my family probably more than anything and maybe buy a new car,” Jankiewicz said.
• The Associated Press contributed to this report.