As the Mega Millions jackpot has soared to an estimated $1 billion — the second-largest lottery prize in U.S. lottery history — Utahns hurried across state lines for the chance at the prize.
“I think the whole state’s up here,” said Gregg Green, a district manager at KJ’s Kwik Stop in Malad, Idaho. The store is about a dozen miles from the Utah border, and he said the majority of its shoppers are from Utah.
Lottery officials increased the grand prize just hours ahead of the Friday night drawing. The prize climbed from $970 million.
Although the jackpot keeps increasing, the odds of winning remain stuck at a miserable one in 302.5 million.
That hasn’t stopped Utahns from loading up in their cars and driving to neighboring Wyoming and Idaho.
Lottery-free Utah is one of six states — with Alaska, Alabama, Hawaii, Mississippi and Nevada — where residents can’t play the Mega Millions lottery. For cashiers at stores in Wyoming and Idaho, that means huge crowds.
Green’s store is among the first Utahns see when they cross into Idaho. He said the store often gets lottery ticket business from those who live north of Salt Lake City, but after no one won the last Mega Millions draw on Tuesday, he saw a spike in customers.
“Wednesday was pretty busy. Yesterday was extremely busy, and today’s just been crazy,” he said.
Green said the store has eight cash registers running, with six devoted solely to lottery purchases, and customers were still waiting about an hour in line to buy tickets. The line stretches out the store’s back door and to the truck loading ramp.
In Evanston, Wyoming, about 83 miles away from Salt Lake City, a cashier at Flying J Travel Center was battling crowds of her own — so much so she didn’t even have time to talk about it.
The store is closer to Salt Lake City than those in Idaho.
Before hanging up the phone, mid-transaction with a customer, the cashier said she was definitely “swamped” with folks traveling from Utah. Lines of people wound through the store, she said, before telling the customer in line their total.
Google maps showed wait times at the store on Friday were busier than normal.
The Mega Millions prize has grown so large because no one has hit the jackpot since July 24, when a group in California won $543 million.
The $1 billion prize refers to the annuity option. Most winners opt for cash, which for Friday night's drawing would be $565 million.
Officials say that if there isn’t a winner, the prize for Tuesday night’s drawing would be $1.6 billion, tying the largest U.S. lottery prize.