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Mega Millions: Lines grow as Californians catch lottery fever

March 29, 2012 |  2:17 pm

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Charlie Blair, 70, had never played the lottery until this week when he noticed the $500 million Mega Millions jackpot. That's when he headed to the Shell gas station on Vermont Avenue, close to his Koreatown apartment, to buy a single ticket.

"It's so high--I mean, that's astronomical!" the retired mechanical engineer said Thursday. "You can't beat the investment: $1 for such a high return."

But Blair isn't dreaming of the $540 million Mega Millions jackpot; he'd be happy with hitting five numbers on the nose.

PHOTOS: Mega Millions fever

"I just want a little bit of the pie. Money changes people. Some people go crazy, but I don't think I would," he said. "I wouldn't let anybody know I even hit it."

That might be hard, considering everyone around Blair has the lottery on the brain.

"My girlfriend, my ex-wife, my bookkeeper, it's all they're talking about," Blair said. "My ex-wife said, 'If you hit it, don't forget me.'"

Blair said if he did win, the first thing he would do is hire a financial adviser and then purchase a home in Los Angeles.

Property owning was a common dream of those who walked into the gas station and eagerly chose what they hoped would be winning numbers. Some even told the woman working the cash register they would buy her a house, as well.

Helen Mendoza, 27, said in addition to buying a three-bedroom house she would pay off her mother's mortgage and put her 11-year-old son in private school. The Koreatown resident was laid off from her job as a cashier at Ralph's and said money has been tight for a few years.

Winning the jackpot would get her family of four out of their one-bedroom apartment and have plenty left over to send food and clothes back to needy neighbors in her birth country of Guatemala.

"A lot of people are struggling, so I don't want a mansion, I want to help other people," Mendoza said.

She planned to buy four tickets and use her anniversary and children's birthdays as her lucky numbers.

Across the county in San Pedro, Mr. C’s Liquor store owner Kenneth Chan said Thursday he called in reinforcements to help out with the crowds of people buying Mega Millions tickets.

Mr. C's, which has been in business for 38 years, ties for the luckiest store in the state, according to the California Lottery.

“Sales are brisk,” said owner Kenneth Chan. “The lines have started to go out the door.”

Tickets bought at the store have won three multimillion-dollar jackpots: $5.8 million, $13 million and $17 million, Chan said. The winning tickets, and newspaper clippings, are posted on the wall.

A Mega Millions win would be "icing on the cake," he said.

Customers often touch a Buddha statue in the store or drop a coin or a dollar in for good luck, Chan said.

"We are really excited," he said. "We really want it to be won locally."

Chan said he buys about 10 tickets each day for himself.

"I am a consistent player," he said. "I have my own set of numbers."

Not everyone, however, was lottery-fixated Thursday.

"I just don't care," Marvin Ruiz, 34, said as he filled his white Mitsubishi Eclipse with gas. "I don't make a lot of money, but I'm OK with the way I live. I don't need that much. You win all that money, you have more problems and taxes."

The Los Angeles auto parts salesman and father of one said playing the lottery was a waste of time.

"It's more important to work hard than dream of something you'll never get," Ruiz said.


 Record Mega Millions jackpot draws players, lines 

Mega Millions jackpot at $500 million and counting

What to do if you win the Mega Millions lottery jackpot

--Corina Knoll in Koreatown and Anna Gorman

Photo: With the line stretching around the block, hundreds of people waited for more than two hours Thursday to buy Mega Millions tickets at Bluebird Liquor store in Hawthorne. Credit: Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images