POWERBALL fever spreads as thousands snatch up tickets in hope of claiming $200 million

Wednesday, August 22nd 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

GREENWICH, Conn. (AP) _ Powerball players across the country snatched up tickets at a brisk pace as they tried to stake their claim to a lottery jackpot that has swelled to an estimated $200 million.

At age 81, Jeremiah Drake was willing to put up with three hours of highway gridlock then wait in the heat for another hour to buy $125 worth of Powerball tickets in Greenwich on Tuesday. Asked if the aggravation was worth it, Drake echoed a common refrain: ``We don't know yet.''

The Powerball drawing set for Wednesday night could lead to one of the largest jackpots ever. The Powerball record was set in 1998 when it reached $295.7 million before being claimed, while the U.S. lotto record was established last year when players pushed the Big Game jackpot to $363 million.

At La Tienda, a convenience store in Franklin, Idaho, customers were lined up out the door to buy tickets for a prize whose odds of winning are 1 in 80 million.

``I'm swamped. They're spending more money this time around than I've ever seen,'' said a harried K.C. Spackman, La Tienda's manager. ``They're spending $100 a shot.''

In Colorado, where Powerball began Aug. 2, about 20 people waited in line at Borderline Lotto & Gallery near the Wyoming border. The constant sound of buzzing ticket machines could be heard over the phone.

``We are quite busy,'' said Tessau Gonzalez, the lotto cashier at the store 80 miles north of Denver. ``We're going crazy. We just keep running the machines.''

As the jackpot grows dramatically, so do the dreams of the players.

``It's $5 for three days of dreaming,'' said Pat Langstraat, 50, a mailroom worker in Des Moines. She dreams of an early retirement and a new house and promises to give money to her church, family and friends.

Greenwich, the first town over the border from New York, was dreaming that Powerball fever would end soon.

A state law was passed in 1999 allowing Connecticut towns to ask the lottery to suspend Powerball sales for 24 hours if a huge influx of players threatened public health and safety, but that law expired on June 30 and was not renewed.

Police were out in force Tuesday, working overtime to control long lines.

``It's just a mess,'' said acting First Selectman Peter Crumbine. ``They're taking up parking spaces. It's adding to the normal congestion in downtown Greenwich.''