Lotto fever hits Tahoe |

Lotto fever hits Tahoe

Rick Chandler

Big dreams come cheap in South Lake Tahoe, and we’re not talking about the pull of a slot machine handle or the turn of a card. It’s SuperLotto, and on Wednesday it took the basin by storm.

“When the jackpot gets this big, you have to take a chance,” said Kevin Fowler, who knows of such things. He’s employed at one of the major casinos at Stateline, and stopped on his way home from his job as a bartender to purchase a Lotto ticket at the Liquor Shack in South Shore.

“I don’t usually play, but this caught my interest,” he said. “Why not?”

According to the odds, one has a better chance of being attacked by a baboon than of winning the current state SuperLotto drawing. But by 4 p.m. Wednesday, the jackpot had grown to $87 million – and one can buy a piece of that dream for only a buck. Californians have found a shot at such a large pile of money hard to resist, never mind that the chances of winning are about 18 million to 1 – or roughly the same as being struck by lightning.

“It’s been organized chaos in here since I opened this morning,” said Stephen Thompson, the daytime manager at Liquor Shack. “It’s Lotto mania. Every other customer is buying a ticket, and I’m working the Lotto machine more than the cash register.

“I figure that later tonight we’ll have two guys working; one to run the machine and one for crowd control. I’m just glad I’m not working then.”

Thompson was cranking out about a ticket per minute at 1:30 p.m., and included were some folks who were buying five, 10 and even 50 tickets at a time. Two girls bought $135 worth of tickets.

“Actually I’ve never played before, but I decided I’d do it when the jackpot got so big,” said one woman who would not divulge her name. “I’ve never played Lotto, but I’ve never won $80 million, either.”

Just about then, a group of five men walked into the store and purchased five tickets each.

“We work at Lahontan (Regional Water Quality Control Board) across the street, and we all decided to come over,” said a man (again, no name given). It’s a group thing. I’ve never played before.”

When asked for their names, the group scurried away, depositing their tickets in their wallets.

In fact, very few Lotto purchasers would reveal their names – the game still seems to have a ‘guilty pleasure’ feel about it. The anonymous dreamers ran the gamut from laborers in dirty overalls to businessmen in suits, all hoping that dumb luck would somehow smile on them.

“I have my regular customers who play, and the rest, about 10 percent, are tourists,” said John Whitty, the manager of Lake Tahoe Liquors and Grocery on Ski Run Boulevard. “When the Lotto jackpot gets up like this, we get slammed all day long. It’s slow now, but wait until four o’clock.”

Oh, by the way – if your store dispenses the winning ticket, you collect 0.5 percent of the pot, or roughly $380,000.

“Yeah, I’m aware of that,” said Whitty, smiling.

Although the early money was coming from the local crowd, stores like Whitty’s were expecting a big rush from Nevada residents in the early evening (the drawing was scheduled for 7:45 p.m.). That’s the way it is in communities such as South Shore, as eager neighbors make a “run for the border” when a lottery jackpot gets large.

What you need to win your fistful of dollars is to get six out of six numbers on your orange lottery ticket. There have been no winners in the past six drawings, which is why the jackpot has grown so big – currently the fattest in the nation.

And if you win, you get to chose between graduated annual payouts over 26 years, or a smaller, lump-sum payout.

When asked what, actually, he would do with $80 million, Fowler looked perplexed, like the thought hadn’t entered his mind.

“I don’t know,” he said, “I guess I’d go to Disneyland.”

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