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West Virginians get in on Powerball mania

By Megan Workman
Kenny Kemp
Foodland employee Ina McKenzie, who bought her first Powerball ticket in seven years Tuesday, sells a ticket to Mike Sankoff, who purchased a total of 10 tickets. The Powerball jackpot soared to $500 million Tuesday, the largest Powerball jackpot in history. The drawing is Wednesday at 10:59 p.m.
Kenny Kemp Charles Black, of Charleston, said he would try to get his business up and running, pay off some bills and "keep it quiet" from others if he won the $500 million Powerball jackpot. Black bought three tickets on Tuesday.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- For the first time in seven years, Foodland employee Ina McKenzie bought a Powerball ticket Tuesday to test her luck at a chance for $500 million, the largest Powerball jackpot in history.

McKenzie is no stranger to the lottery tickets. She sells them daily to customers, especially on this Tuesday.

The day before Wednesday's big drawing, McKenzie said she was "very busy" selling $2 Powerball tickets.

By 4 p.m. Tuesday, Powerball sales in West Virginia reached $385,000 for the day, which is much higher than normal, said Randy Burnside, a spokesman for the West Virginia Lottery.

Since the Powerball's last drawing on Saturday, sales in the state topped $1 million alone that day - ticket sales have surged to $930,000. That does not include the rest of Tuesday's sales, Burnside said.

Burnside said he "wouldn't be shocked" if West Virginia's Powerball sales reached $1 million Wednesday alone. 

"For 15 consecutive draws, no one has hit that lucky number. That's how a half-a-billion-dollar jackpot happens. It's a game of chance," Burnside said. "You have a chance at an unbelievable amount of money that could make a difference and I think people like to dream."

McKenzie said if she won the jackpot, she would pay off her mother's home, pay off her own house, set up trust funds for her children and buy a new car, since the one she owns is in the shop for a new transmission.

For the customers who handed her a couple dollar bills throughout the morning, McKenzie said most people "don't understand how anyone would need that much money," but said they "would give the money to help others and pay off all of their bills."

Mike Sankoff, of Charleston, said he plays the lottery regularly.

After he purchased his 10 Powerball tickets from McKenzie, Sankoff slipped them into a plastic protective sleeve and placed it in his pocket.

Sankoff couldn't use the $327 million cash option all for himself. Instead, he would donate the money and distribute it among his family members, he said.

The odds of hitting the jackpot are 1 in 175 million, Burnside said. But that isn't stopping people from trying to buy the lucky ticket.

"When you have an increase, like today's $500 million, that means sales are exceeding what the Multi-State Lottery Association thought they would be," Burnside said. "A lot of people are buying tickets nationwide."

The fact that Powerball tickets doubled in price in January -- an increase from $1 to $2 -- "revamped the game," he said.

Players said they wanted the Powerball game to "drive jackpots," Burnside said. Now, when the Powerball jackpot is reset, the winnings will start at $40 million instead of the previous $20 million, he said.

Paying that extra dollar now gives winners who match five numbers a reward of at least $1 million, he said.

"That extra dollar goes into the price structure. It creates more millionaires in this game," Burnside said. "We've been fortunate in West Virginia. In the last 12 months we've had five millionaires created from the Mega Millions and Powerball."

Charles Black, of Charleston, didn't care what his numbers were Tuesday. He had a computer pick the numbers on each of the three tickets he bought in Sissonville, South Charleston and Charleston.

"It's so high I might as well try," said Black, who had just bought his third ticket at the Go-Mart on Bigley Avenue. "It's never been this high before, so I might as well throw a couple dollars away and see what happens."

And if ticket buyers don't have the jackpot-winning ticket, Burnside encourages them not to forget about their ticket.

"Just because you don't match all six numbers doesn't mean you're not a winner. Make sure you check your tickets," Burnside said. "Eventually someone is going to win."

The last person to win the Powerball jackpot in West Virginia was Randy Smith, of Martinsburg, who took the cash option of $44 million of the $79 million total jackpot on Aug. 23, 2010.

In all, eight winners in the state have won the Powerball jackpot, Burnside said.

At a Lottery Commission meeting Tuesday, marketing director Nikki Orcutt touted the record jackpot.  

She noted that West Virginia players have won eight Powerball jackpots, including two of the top 10 record jackpots: Jack Whittaker won the now-sixth largest jackpot of $314.9 million in 2002, while a group of employees in the Monongalia County Tax Office shared the 10th largest jackpot of $276.3 million in 2008.

The Powerball jackpot drawing is at 10:59 p.m. Wednesday.

If there isn't a winner Wednesday, Burnside said the jackpot would roll over into Saturday's drawing. It would likely eclipse the $656 million Mega Millions jackpot from March, the largest jackpot in history, Burnside said.

Staff writer Phil Kabler contributed.

Reach Megan Workman at megan.workman@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5113


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