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Bryan Eaton/Staff Photo

With historic winnings at stake in tonight’s Powerball jackpot, lottery sales in the region boomed yesterday with people dreaming of how they would spend their riches if fortune smiled on them.

By mid-day yesterday, the jackpot had reached $500 million, $75 million more than what was estimated earlier in the day. According to Massachusetts Lottery officials, that put the one-time cash payout option on the prize at more than $327 million. And the grand prize was expected to continue to balloon up until tonight’s drawing.

“Really, with that much money in the pot, who cares if Uncle Sam takes half,” Amy Davis of Seabrook said. “You could take care of your kids and everybody you love. And I’d give money to the charities that help sick children, but I’d be in Aruba where it’s warm wiring the money to the charities back here.”

Once the domain of smaller states like New Hampshire, Powerball spread a few years ago to Massachusetts and elsewhere. Now with 41 states taking part, the result means bigger jackpots for players.

Tonight’s jackpot is the largest in the multi-state game’s 20-year history, according to Massachusetts Lottery officials. Powerball’s previous record jackpot was $365 million, won in Nebraska in February 2006.

The current Powerball jackpot has grown over 15 straight drawings since Oct. 3, when a ticket sold in Delaware won a $50 million prize, lottery officials reported.

That has people clamoring for tickets. According to the Massachusetts State House News Service, ticket sales in the Bay State sped along at a $3,700-per-minute clip yesterday afternoon.

At Circle Discount right over the Massachusetts line on Route 1 in Seabrook, Vijay Patel said the Powerball drawing has led business to skyrocket.

“Usually, we do about $150 in Powerball sales a day, but with this jackpot, it’s up to $800 to $900 (a day),” said Patel, who has owned the store for 3 1/2 years. “People like the money.”

O’Brien’s General Store in Seabrook has a longer history of selling lottery dreams, which means employees there have seen changes over the years.

Before Massachusetts’ entry into Powerball, people from the Bay State would head to the store just off the first New Hampshire exit from Interstate 95 for tickets whenever the game offered big paydays.

In those days, general manager Jennifer L’Esperance said there would be lines of customers out the door and around the building and extra staff would be called in to run registers to accommodate the rush of ticket buyers.

In the 16 years she’s worked at O’Brien’s, L’Esperance has noticed buying habits change among her customers. Since the price of a Powerball ticket rose from $1 to $2 apiece, unless there’s a big payout, L’Esperance said the $1 Mega Millions tickets are usually more popular with her patrons.

But even now with Massachusetts in the Powerball act and tickets for the game at $2 apiece, this latest jackpot caused the store’s customarily plentiful lottery business to see at least double the traffic yesterday, with a surge expected today from people waiting for the final hours to buy their tickets, L’Esperance said. And she’s keeping her fingers crossed for everyone, including one guy who promised to buy her a lime green Mustang if he won.

“It’s exciting when the jackpot’s this big,” L’Esperance said. “And it would be so nice to see someone from around here win. What you usually hear is that the winner’s from out west somewhere.”

At Fast Freddie’s in the Mobil station on Main Street in Salisbury near I-95, Nirali Patel was experiencing sales for her second big lottery payout. Her first was the landmark $656 million Mega Millions prize that accumulated March 30. So far, that was the largest lottery jackpot ever, but that could change with the rate things are going with the current Powerball prize.

Small neighborhood stores that don’t typically draw crowds of travelers or out-of-state players were also seeing Powerball tickets fly out the door in the hands of local hopefuls yesterday.

At Express Food Mart, located on a quiet stretch of North End Boulevard in the midst of Salisbury Beach’s residential enclave, sales of Powerball tickets had “quadrupled,” according to clerk Rick Sullivan.

On a day-to-day basis, Sullivan said the Lottery’s scratch tickets are probably the store’s biggest sellers, but not lately. When his normal clientele patronize the store to pick up something to eat or drink, these days most are also leaving with Powerball tickets.

“I’d say the majority of them are spending $20, picking up 10 tickets,” Sullivan said. “And I know they’re not usual Powerball players because most don’t know the price has gone up to $2 a ticket. That happened about a year ago.”

But Pat Regan wasn’t buying into the Powerball myth yesterday. She was sticking to scratch tickets, even though she believes the payout on those has dropped in recent years. Her reasoning in passing over Powerball isn’t hard to fault.

“With a jackpot over $400 million, what are your chances of winning?” Regan asked. “The odds are just too great.”

In fact, according to Massachusetts Lottery officials, the probability of winning the Powerball jackpot is approximately one in 175 million. The chances of winning any prize in the game are one in 31.85.

But as slim at the odds are, for most, it’s worth $2 to live in hope for a few days.

“I’ll buy a ticket for this,” Sullivan said. “The way I look at it, it has to be an act of God for me to win, so I’ll buy one ticket. You only need one to win.”

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