‘I’m feeling lucky’: Excitement builds among Tennessee lottery players as jackpots top $1B

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Excitement is building up in the Mid-South and across the country.

That’s because the combined Powerball and Mega Millions jackpots are reaching a total of nearly $1.2 billion.

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Sales of lottery tickets nationwide have slumped since the start of the pandemic.

But the huge cash prizes are drawing people back to the game.

A constant flow of customers piled through the Hop-In convenience store at the intersection of Highland St. and Poplar Ave. in Memphis Tuesday.

Many costumers paying up for paper, hoping it will turn into a fortune.

“I bought a ticket because you can’t win if you don’t play,” Mid-South resident Joe Johnson said. “I’m just feeling kind of lucky today.”

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The jackpot for the Mega Millions’ drawing on Tuesday has reached an estimated $625 million.

The top prize in the Powerball game is at least $550 million ahead of Wednesday’s drawing.

“If you have a lottery as large as this evening, all stores will be very busy,” Johnson said.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, some states have seen a sharp decrease in ticket sales.

Tennessee Lottery CEO Rebecca Hargrove said Tennessee has actually seen an increase of about 14 percent in sales compared to last year.

“Nationwide, half the states are up, and half are down. I don’t know if you could blame either of those things on the pandemic,” she said. “Sales are doing well here, and I think that may have to do with a lot of things we have done. We have paid players in a timely manner, and we stay in touch with our retailers.”

Some Mid-South locals say it’s a safe, socially distanced activity.

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“You can get the ticket and sit in the privacy of your own home away from other people instead of going to a casino,” Johnson said.

When it comes to what they’d spend their winnings on, generosity is the theme.

“For one, I would help out my family, the homeless shelters and the churches out there,” Jason Rodriguez said.

The odds may be low, but hopes are high.

“I feel lucky every day, but I am feeling extremely lucky today,” Maud Saulberry said.

Hargrove with the Tennessee Education Lottery tells me these jackpot runs are not only good for players, but also for Tennessee students, as more money is raised.