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Big Game Jackpot Hits $350 Million

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ATLANTA (AP) — People who wouldn't know a quick-pick from a scratch-off ticket got a piece of the action in Tuesday night's Big Game lottery, swelling the jackpot to $350 million — the richest in U.S. history.

Thomas Carter, a clerk at the Quik Trip in Decatur, said his thumbs hurt from punching in so many Big Game ticket requests for so many first-time lottery players Tuesday morning.

``A lot of them don't know what they're doing,'' Carter said. ``You have to explain to them that they can pick the numbers themselves, or they can let the computer do it.''

The almost inconceivably large jackpot has converted even the most reluctant gamblers. John Smith, a 23-year-old student at the University of Maryland, had never bought any sort of lottery ticket before buying five tickets at a liquor store in College Park, Md.

Melody McPipkin, of Decatur, also bought five tickets Tuesday.

``Unless it gets way up there, I don't bother,'' she said. ``I'm not going to waste my time on just a few million.''

The drawing was to be held at 11 p.m. Tuesday in Atlanta, and tickets were sold in Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey and Virginia.

If a single person wins the jackpot, the payout is either $8.9 million a year for 26 years, or a one-time payment of $114 million. That's after taxes, of course.

The $350 million jackpot tops the previous American record, a $295.7 million Powerball jackpot split by 13 machinists in Westerville, Ohio, two years ago.

The world lottery record is $1.2 billion, set in December by Spain's El Gordo lottery, or the Fat One. But that game spreads itself thin by awarding thousands of prizes.

The odds that a $1 Big Game ticket will have all five winning numbers and the matching Big Money Ball are one in more than 76 million. But who's thinking about odds when $1 buys a chance to dream?

``I wouldn't mind calling my company and telling them I'm not coming in to work tomorrow,'' said Mitchell Ingram, a construction foreman from Woodstock. ``And you can't win if you don't play.''

Some people in Georgia and Massachusetts almost didn't have a chance to play Monday night and Tuesday morning because damaged phones lines shut down hundreds of lottery terminals.

Problems with BellSouth phone lines shut down about 370 retailers in northeast Georgia until Tuesday afternoon. The problem was worse in southeastern Massachusetts, where an accidentally cut fiber-optic cable disabled between 750 and 1,000 lottery agents.

The hype surrounding the Big Game has created problems for some. Alcoholics can avoid bars, but compulsive gamblers have a hard time avoiding lottery advertisements, news stories and talk around the office water cooler.

Keith Whyte, executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling in Washington, said hard-core gamblers — who make up about 1 to 2 percent of the adult population — play because of an overwhelming need to gamble, not because of the size of the jackpot.

But for most people, the largest jackpot in American history is too much to turn down. Edward Franco, who bought his tickets at Union Station in Chicago, said he knows exactly what he will do if he wins the jackpot:

``I'm going to walk into the closest Harley (Davidson) shop and not even haggle. Just get some keys and ride. ... I don't even know if I'll put a call in to work.''

Franco stopped and corrected himself: ``I don't know if I'll have my people call in to work.''

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On the Net:

Big Game: http://www.theofficialbiggame.com

National Council on Problem Gambling: http://www.ncpgambling.org

Gamblers Anonymous: http://www.gamblersanonymous.org
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