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Benjamin Spillman

Record jackpot fuels lottery craze at Nevada border

30 March 2012

Thousands of prospective lottery winners lined up near a dry lake bed near Primm on Thursday, and no one was struck by lightning, swarmed by bees or injured by a chain saw.

Given any of those mishaps is much more likely to happen to someone than winning the Mega Millions Lottery jackpot, it's a safe bet no one from the line winding out of the Primm Valley Casino Resorts Lotto Store is about to be about $540 million richer anytime soon, either.

Judging by the length of the line, however, none of the people who made the trek to a tiny store just across the California border from dusty, desolate, Primm, seemed bothered by long odds.

The store has been selling an estimated 165,000 to 170,000 tickets per day during the recent frenzy over what is believed to be the largest lottery jackpot ever.

On Thursday, people were waiting more than four hours for their shot to buy tickets, though the chances of winning the entire amount are about 175 million to 1.

The line stretched out the front door of the store, around the building, along the perimeter of the parking lot and down the road more than 1,000 feet.

"I don't gamble," said Mary Amar, 52, a massage therapist from Las Vegas. "This is a splurge."

Amar was in line with several friends who drove to Primm for tickets. She said she doesn't gamble in casinos, nor has she played the lottery in the past.

But the chance to spend the day with friends and dream about what she would do with the unlikely gains of a lottery windfall was too good to pass up.

"They are immeasurable," Amar said of the odds against her winning. "But I'm a positive person."

A mother of six, she said she would share the money with her children and "help a lot of people" if she won the big money.

Amar and her friends left Las Vegas around 10:30 a.m. and were still in good spirits around 1:30 p.m. as they waited several hundred feet away from the store.

"This was just something that was exciting," said Michelle Swartz, 40, also a massage therapist. Like Amar, she didn't have a shopping list of things she would buy, just the notion a boatload of money could do a lot of good in the right hands.

"There are going to be a lot of happy people, that's all I know," Swartz said when asked how she would spend winnings.

Tim Quesenberry, 37, was in a group of five people spending $160 on tickets.

"I figured there would be a line. I didn't figure it would be this crazy," he said.

Quesenberry, who is in the Air Force, said he would use the winnings to provide a college fund for his son.

Winning "would be a huge weight off your shoulders," he said. "Everybody worries about money."

While most of the people circling the lotto store were there to spend money on a chance to win, Raul Velasquez, 21, was betting on a sure thing.

Velasquez, a carpenter at the nearby resorts, and a friend were selling cold water off the back of a small truck for $1 a bottle.

He said they had sold 120 bottles in their first 30 minutes, proving there are more reliable ways to make a buck than buying lottery tickets.

"I already lost a couple of times," he said of the lottery.

Velasquez wasn't the only one profiting from the big line.

Affinity Gaming, parent company of Primm Valley Resorts and owner of the lotto store, gets a small cut from each ticket sold and a piece of the prize in the unlikely event one of their customers actually wins.

Assistant General Manager Stuart Richey said the real value in selling lottery tickets is they attract customers to the other businesses in the area.

Primm Valley has everything from casinos to restaurants to an outlet mall in an otherwise barren stretch of land on the California-Nevada border.

"It is a big part of our strategy," Richey said. "It is all about getting people off the highway and visiting the casinos."

Mega Millions is available in 42 states, but Nevada isn't among them.

Being the closest retailer to Las Vegas to offer the lottery makes Primm Valley one of the busiest lottery stores in California.

Affinity has another store across the border from Reno that also is among California's most prosperous lottery ticket sellers.

"It is kind of funny the two busiest lottery stores in California are owned by a Nevada casino company," said Ferenc Szony, chief operating officer of Affinity.

Today's drawing will be at 8 p.m. Tickets can be purchased until 7:45 p.m.