Marie Agricola, 64, unconcerned about the laws of probability, borrowed her son's car and drove from her Gaithersburg townhouse to Northwest Washington to buy a chance -- 20, actually -- to win yesterday's estimated $215 million Powerball jackpot.
"I don't have many activities, so this is my recreation," said the retired accountant, carefully placing a clutch of pink-and-white tickets in her purse after paying the cashier at Rodman's pharmacy on Wisconsin Avenue NW.
Normally, she spends less than $5 on lottery tickets. But like thousands of Virginia and Maryland residents who descended on the District yesterday, squeezing into liquor stores and mini-marts in a last-minute rush to participate in the drawing, the size of yesterday's jackpot -- the third-highest in Powerball history -- was too tempting. Never mind that the odds of winning are about 1 in 120 million.
"For one dollar, it's the cheapest fantasy in the land," said Judi Kauffman, 56, a Chevy Chase resident who bought two $1 tickets at Rodman's. "You can spend days talking to your friends about your plans." Hers would include buying a home for her best friend, giving free tuition to her students at the Corcoran College of Art and Design and hiring a driver.
Across town, Joe Ortiz, 35, an Army doctor who lives in Severn, had also made the trek to Washington. By midmorning, the two Powerball cashiers at Morris Miller Liquor store, off Georgia Avenue near the Maryland-District line, were doing a brisk business.
"You take Visa?" he asked. Cash only, came the reply. Ortiz pulled some crisp bills out of his wallet and started to fill out the Powerball cards. "I don't believe in lucky numbers," he said. "Someone told me to try using numbers at both ends."
The winning numbers drawn last night were 5-22-34-39-52, Powerball 30 and Power Play 5. Powerball is played in 23 states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The two largest Powerball jackpots were $295.7 million in July 1998 and $295 million in August 2001, lottery officials said.
Players select five numbers from 1 to 53 and a Powerball number from 1 to 42. The winner of yesterday's jackpot drawing can choose to receive a lump-sum payment of $116 million or 30 annuity payments of $7.16 million over 29 years. The figures do not include taxes.
But most players yesterday were not thinking about lump sums or annuity payments. They were concentrating on that $215 million figure.
"Anytime the jackpot gets over $150 million, people start really fantasizing," said D.C. Lottery spokesman Bob Hainey. As of 3 p.m. yesterday, the 450 lottery vendors in the District had sold more than $500,000 worth of Powerball tickets. In November 2001, a self-employed Arlington cabdriver claimed the largest single Powerball lottery prize -- a $55.2 million jackpot -- for a ticket sold in the District. If there is no winner in the $215 million Saturday drawing, the jackpot was expected to increase to $280 million for the Christmas night drawing, lottery officials said.
At Rodman's, the crush of business in the last few days prompted the store to limit customers to a $10 maximum for single tickets. On Friday, a woman had bought $126 worth of single tickets, and printing them out "took a long time," said customer service manager Hemant Vyas.
Many players, like Agricola and Ortiz, spoke of modest hopes and desires: funding college education, paying off the mortgage, retiring.
Others, like Anto Bagic, 41, a Glover Park neurologist, had more altruistic goals. "I would have a free clinic for treating pain," he said after buying several tickets at Rodman's.
But as Kauffman, the Corcoran art teacher, pointed out, most people's fantasies, no matter how wild, do not "eat up this quantity of money." She noted that she could pay the college tuition for all of her students and still have a lot of money left over.
"To most people, this is an unfathomable amount of money," she said.