A typical weeknight along the state line between Alabama and Georgia usually passes with very little commotion. In sleepy little border towns like Tallapoosa, GA, a thin but constant flow of travelers stop to refuel, buy the occasional lottery or scratch-off ticket, and continue on their journey. This week, however, has been far from typical. “March Madness” may be overtaking the sports world, but on the Alabama-Georgia state line, the word is “Mega-Millions Madness” this week, as hundreds of lottery-winner hopefuls make their pilgrimage to buy a chance at a jackpot estimated to be worth over $540 million.
On Thursday night, March 29, 2012 over 150 people crowded into the Tallapoosa Shell Station around 8:30pm,eager to lay their cash down for a chance at the prize. To the unfamiliar traveler, the scene must have appeared to be that of a disaster movie. Police cars blocked the street, lights flashing a blinding blue. Officers with flashlights guided bewildered drivers towards their destinations with official urgency. In the parking lots, cars double parked and overflowed onto the grass as parking spots were in high demand and short supply.
The March 30th drawing is set to be the largest lottery drawing in Mega Millions history, with some projections listed as high as $600 million. The lure of that sum of money has drawn far larger numbers of hopefuls into the ever-growing pool, and dramatically increasing traffic at lottery retailers along the Alabama/Georgia state line, as travelers from over hundreds of miles away make the trip to buy tickets.
Inside the Shell gas station, one excited Mega Millions customer grinned and kissed his girlfriend as he was handed his $5 ticket. “This da’ winnin’ number, right here!” he beamed. “We gonna go home and make love on this ticket right here, we gonna win!” People in the crowd laughed as the couple left the store, and continued their push forward, certain that their numbers, not those of the loving young couple, would be the winner.
Across the street at the Pilot Travel Center, the scene was much the same, with a line of Mega Millions customers over forty yards long stretching out the front door. When asked how this week’s ticket sales compare to a “typical” week, General Manager Kenny Rodriguez smiles and shakes his head. “This week we have sold more than double the usual amount. I would say sales are up at least two hundred fifty percent.”
Those kind of sales make for record jackpot amounts, and long days at ticket retailers up and down the state line. “If you, win, you are going to share, right?” asks one clerk with a tired grin. “You know it,” replies another satisfied customer. As he leaves the line, another hopeful steps forward and lays a twenty on the counter. The night stretches on to the hum of ticket printing machines.
The Mega Millions drawing will be held at 11pm EST on March 30, 2012. Tickets cost $1 each, and can be bought in increments of $1, $5, or $10. All tickets for Friday’s drawing must be bought before 10:30pm EST, but some retailers may cut lines short early to avoid squabbles. If you plan to head to the state line to buy tickets, be prepared to spend over an hour or more in line. Keep in mind the further into the state you drive, the less overwhelmed the retailers will likely be. Good luck!