Lotto fever is rampant again.
The Lotto America jackpot, which starts at $2 million and increases each time there is no winner, was last hit on May 9. It now stands at $25 million and the next drawing is tonight.
"This city is Lotto happy," said Christine Lyon, manager of Tenley Mini Market in the District. Lyon spent yesterday selling tickets for Lotto America to a steady stream of customers and talking on the telephone to people who called with questions about the game.
"As the value goes up, it gets crazier," said Lyon, seated at the counter of the store at 4326 Wisconsin Ave. NW. "We have a lot of regulars. I call them Lotto freaks, people who spend $40 to $50 every week. But at times like this we get everybody."
Once struck, bettors are seen shading in numbers on a card or asking cashiers for "random picks, please."
At Tenley Mart, there is a third alternative: You can step up to "Old Doc's original lucky number Hot Box" and for 25 cents the box reveals your lucky number.
The Lotto fever turns practical people, who normally cling to their money, into dreaming bettors who plot how to spend imaginary millions.
"I'd buy an island in the South Pacific and go off and rest for the remainder of my life," said Jeff Bloom, who bought $31 worth of tickets at Eagle Wine & Liquor in Georgetown.
Mariane Doyle, a State Department engineer, walked into the store with a reminder note that said "Lotto tickets" stapled to the strap of her pocketbook.
She remembered; she bought $2 in tickets. "I played my husband's numbers. I think he dreamed them," said Doyle, who would spend the millions "on a cruise, where I would dream of what else to do."
Her coworker Robert Baker was a first-timer, infected by the fever after Doyle told him the amount of the jackpot. "I figure if the game is in a liquor store it can't be all bad," said Boyle, laughing. "I'd use the money to start paying off my debts."
At the South Capitol Mini Mart, where last year a customer purchased a winning ticket for a $16 million jackpot, residents from the District as well as Maryland and Virginia dropped by to try their luck. The District and nine states participate in the game.
"I played some special numbers, birth dates and other special dates," said Jim Stepulla, an executive with a moving and storage company. "If I won, I'd set up a couple of trust funds for my grandsons and help some underprivileged people get a better education. After all, you can't spend all that money, and as I've gotten older my needs aren't so complicated."
Eugene Parker bought a ticket for himself, one for his wife and a third for his daughter. "I'd pay off all my bills and take my mother to a specialist to see what is wrong with her legs," Parker said.
Frances Jones, operator of one of the Lotto machines at the Mini Mart, expects today to be "a madhouse. We'll have four machines running and a line stretching around the store."
Lyon isn't looking forward to tomorrow. "After the drawing the phone will ring off the hook," she said. "People will ask if there is a winner, and then for some reason they all ask, 'Where is the winner from?' "