With $320 million up for grabs in tonight's Powerball jackpot, many residents of southwestern Pennsylvania just can't resist the temptation to spend a few dollars -- and sometimes much more -- on a dream.
"I'd take care of my family, and then go on a trip to the south of France and invest the rest of it," said Raymond Pierce, a 58-year-old Medicare grievance analyst from Baldwin who bought a Powerball ticket inside Smithfield News, Downtown, on Friday night.
Why the south of France, as if one needed to ask?
"That's where all the beautiful women are at," he said with a laugh.
State lottery officials said Pennsylvania residents have purchased more than 2 million $2 Powerball tickets for tonight's drawing, which is the sixth highest since Pennsylvania joined Powerball in 2002. Since then, Pennsylvania has sold 16 Powerball jackpots, most recently in April to a Philadelphia group called SEPTA 48 for more than $107 million. A cash payout of tonight's drawing would be nearly $200 million.
Among local Powerball players, daydreams about visiting -- or maybe even moving to -- warmer climates were a common theme. So was paying off debts.
"I'd pay off everything I owe and then move to London or something," said 21-year-old Brenton Dorsey of West Mifflin. Or maybe he'd build his own house somewhere southern and hot, like Texas. Mr. Dorsey is studying sports management at Point Park University and has been buying a Powerball ticket twice a week during the past few months in an effort to make some money.
At the Swissvale 7-Eleven gas station and convenience store, 53-year-old Lou Levine was dreaming of buying an island, which he would enjoy "with a nice cold one in one hand and no worries," he said.
And he would share with his friends, family and the folks who work at the 7-Eleven, where he buys his lottery tickets.
"At $320 million, you could give everyone a little taste," he said. That drew an appreciative grin and a hopeful cry of "I don't need a lot, just a little!" from assistant manager Tim Jackson, a 24-year-old Marine Corps veteran, as he made a fresh pot of coffee.
Like his customer, Mr. Jackson bought a Powerball ticket for tonight's drawing. His co-worker, fellow assistant manager Michelle Newell of Edgewood, had bought a half-dozen, in part because she noticed how many people actually win lottery money -- even if it's not a fat jackpot that will let them pay off debts and retire to a tropical island.
Still, while many people are able to buy just what they can afford, other people -- many of them poor or elderly, or both -- spend exorbitant amounts on lottery tickets, Ms. Newell said. Some people spend $50 a day or more on Powerball, Mega Millions, Treasure Hunt, scratch-off tickets and other games, she said. Others spend their whole paycheck at once on lottery tickets. And many skimp on essentials such as gasoline so they have a few more dollars to spend on what amounts to socially acceptable gambling, Ms. Newell said.
"It's kind of like a drug," she said of people who spend more than they can afford on tickets. "People are chasing that feeling of winning."
At the Braddock Avenue Express in the Regent Square neighborhood, 62-year-old Kirk Warner, also of Regent Square, isn't trying to pay the rent with lottery winnings, and he isn't chasing the cravings of a compulsive gambler. He starts buying Powerball tickets when the jackpot hits $100 million, he said, and would give much of his winnings away.
"I'd tithe -- 10 percent -- and then I'd be generous," perhaps by creating a foundation to help disadvantaged people, said Mr. Warner, a self-employed carpet installer and member of Covenant Church of Pittsburgh in Wilkinsburg.
But he might keep just a little for himself.
"As a 40-year carpet installer, I think I'd be able to get off my knees," Mr. Warner said.
Amy McConnell Schaarsmith: email@example.com or 412-263-1719.