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Powerball fever hits peak with $500m jackpot

Debbie Baker will visit her regular East Boston hangout, Lanzilli’s Groceria, Wednesday, but not to play her typical Keno or Mass Cash. Instead she will take a crack at the record $500 million Powerball jackpot.

“I just play it when it’s large. I do it for fun,” said the 60-year-old retired construction worker. “One ticket. $2. Quick pick. If it’s meant to be, it will be.”

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Baker will have plenty of company at the counter. In anticipation of Wednesday night’s jackpot drawing — the largest in the game’s 20-year history — scores of Massachusetts residents are expected to purchase last-minute tickets to get in on the action. The odds of winning are about 175 million to 1.

State lottery officials anticipate selling $20,000 to $22,000 in tickets per minute between the peak hours of 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. Wednesday, said Beth Bresnahan, spokeswoman for the Massachusetts State Lottery.

Massachusetts ranks seventh in Powerball sales out of 41 participating states plus Washington, D.C., and the US Virgin Islands, she said. As more tickets are sold, the jackpot will increase, and the closer it gets to the drawing, the busier stores are likely to get.

The state’s 7,400 lottery retailers will cut off Powerball ticket sales at 9:45 p.m. Wednesday to prepare for the 10:59 p.m. drawing.

“That buzz, that frenzy, people think time is running out and people say, ‘I have to get my chance,’ ” Bresnahan said.

Between the looming deadline and all the publicity, the game is creating a bandwagon effect, said Barbara Bickart, a consumer behavior professor at Boston University.

“My sense is that there’s a large group of people that don’t normally buy tickets. When they see the jackpot that big they say, ‘This is one I don’t want to miss out on,’ ” Bickart said. “People are more aware of it.”

The state sold $2 million in Powerball tickets Monday, and officials anticipated sales would reach $4.5 million by the end of Tuesday, Bresnahan said.

At Lanzilli’s, which ranks 10th among the state’s top lottery sales retailers, manager Vijay Patel anticipated Powerball sales at the store to be over $30,000 on the day of the drawing, surpassing the busy store’s $20,000 daily average.

Ravi Patel sold a Powerball ticket at Lanzilli’s Groceria in East Boston. Powerball sales surged at the shop.

YOON S. BYUN/GLOBE STAFF

Ravi Patel sold a Powerball ticket at Lanzilli’s Groceria in East Boston. Powerball sales surged at the shop.

“This is a record high,” Patel said, adding he has a positive feeling he will sell the winning ticket. “Why not? With the number of tickets we sell, we have more chance than anybody else.”

Baker sat on a stool at the store Tuesday, one eye on the Keno monitor, but in her hands, the true focus of her attention — several blank Powerball play slips that she considered filling out before deciding to come back Wednesday.

As the jackpot jumped from a record $425 million to $500 million, she contemplated what she would do with the money.

“What would I do if I won? I’d travel the world. Everywhere. I want to go to the whole globe,” she said. Las Vegas would be her first stop.

When she heard about the $500 million jackpot, Jane Manning of East Boston added two Powerball tickets to her gasoline purchase Tuesday at Lanzilli’s.

“I don’t usually play, but this was an opportunity to dream,” said the newly retired Boston public school teacher. “And the price of one ticket for me and one ticket that I bought for my mom was worth the $4 just to enjoy the possibility of what it would be like to win.”

During the lunch-hour rush Tuesday, Lanzilli’s lottery machines were busy printing out a stream of tickets for first-time players, office poolers, and the regulars, betting on their dreams. Among them, Jacqueline Babin, an East Boston sandwich shop worker who hopes to one day open a cupcake shop, bet $10.

“Maybe I’ll hit $500 million and open my cupcakery,” Babin said.

Joe Myette of East Boston played his usual lucky numbers and also bought a quick pick — letting the computer choose random numbers. He has been coming to Lanzilli’s for seven years, but not yet hit it big.

“There’s a time for everything, right?” Myette said.

Jeff Grant of East Boston, a regular at the store, rebuffed Lanzilli’s workers when they tried to entice him to buy a Powerball ticket.

“You know what the odds are? 175 million! You can get struck by lightning three times,” Grant said, quickly adding, “I’m definitely playing.”

Katheleen Conti can be reached at kconti@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeKConti.
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