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Mega Millions: How to spend a $1 billion lottery jackpot

Orange County Register logo Orange County Register 7/29/2022 David Downey, The Orange County Register

As a general rule, Tim O’Donnell doesn’t play the lottery.

“I keep telling my wife, if it clears a billion dollars I’ll buy a ticket,” he said.

The Mega Millions jackpot topped the $1 billion mark this week. So, on Wednesday afternoon, July 27, O’Donnell, 53, found himself waiting in line with wife, Camille, 42, to put down $20 for 10 lottery tickets. The couple made the purchase at a 7-Eleven convenience store in Chino Hills that gained notoriety in 2016 when it sold one of three winning tickets in a $1.6 billion Powerball jackpot.

Asked what they would do if they won, Camille O’Donnell didn’t hesitate. They’d buy a house in Hawaii.

“Maybe one on each island,” she said.

The O’Donnells of Chino are among thousands of Southern Californians eagerly anticipating the Friday night, July 29, drawing for a jackpot the California Lottery on Thursday, July 28, estimated at $1.1 billion. Lines have been building in stores throughout Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties this week.

At a 7-Eleven on Lankershim Boulevard in North Hollywood, cashier Elia Mejia said about twice as many people were coming through the door to buy tickets, with several customers purchasing 50 apiece. There were so many Mega Millions players, Mejia said, the store had to create a line specifically for ticket buyers.

Lines are expected to grow especially long the day of the drawing. In an anticipation of that, Allen Hogue, 57, of Corona, made a point of buying on Wednesday.

“Friday is going to be crazy,” Hogue said.

The Associated Press reported that this 45-state Mega Millions jackpot ranks as the nation’s fourth-largest lottery prize. The amount has been building since mid-April because no one matched all six numbers in 29 straight drawings.

That doesn’t mean there haven’t been winners.

During the last Mega Millions drawing on Tuesday someone matched five numbers. The California Lottery said in a tweet that that ticket was sold at the Country Store in the San Bernardino County desert town of Baker, which greets gamblers driving to Las Vegas and claims to have the world’s tallest thermometer. While dwarfed by the $1.1 billion jackpot, the value of the consolation prize was $2.9 million.

With the big jackpot in play, ticket buyers are dreaming big. And the O’Donnells aren’t the only ones with paradise on their minds.

Courtney Collins of San Clemente said high on her list is buying property in Hawaii.

Collins walked into an Arco gas station in Capistrano Beach on Wednesday and bought five tickets with a $10 bill. Station employee June Ong told her he wanted a 1% cut, if she wins.

“Remember I sold you the lucky one,” Ong said, with a smirk.

Collins pushed the ticket containing the five sets of numbers toward him

“I will remember you… I’ll take care of you guys,” she said. “Write your name on it.”

Collins was hardly the only station customer buying lottery tickets.

“Everyone wants to be a winner,” Ong said. “They are buying like crazy.”

At midday Wednesday, nearly 20 people were standing in line to buy tickets at Blue Bird Liquor in Hawthorne. The location was no accident. Over the past couple decades, the store has sold tickets that have generated winnings in the tens of millions of dollars.

South Bay resident Desi Wiley, 64, was one of those in line.

Wiley rattled off several things she’d do, were she to match the six numbers: pay off debt, give to friends and neighbors, help homeless people, and develop creative projects.

“This will give me the opportunity to focus on my hobbies now: painting, ceramics, photography,” she said.

Brittanie Ngo of Tustin, 47, an information technology project manager who works for the U.S. Air Force, would rent out the region’s iconic amusement park.

Ngo said by phone that she was 6 weeks old when she escaped Vietnam before the fall of Saigon in April 1975. She said her dad carried her as he ran down the tarmac at an air base to a waiting C-130.

“It has been my dream to one day rent Disneyland Park and invite Vietnam veterans and their family members to attend an evening of gratitude,” Ngo wrote in an email. The event, Ngo wrote, would offer thanks for “sacrifices that made our freedom to enjoy the happiest place on earth possible.”

Jeanette Weidl, 55, of Corona, who bought her first-ever lottery tickets precisely because of the $1-billion-plus prize, said she would quit her job doing nails if she were to win.

That’s not all. “I’d buy a few houses — at the beach,” Weidl said. “I’d buy a new car. I’d buy my family a house. And travel. Go to Europe.”

For some, the thought of winning it all is scary, and landing a consolation prize — like the one attached to the lucky ticket sold in Baker — is more attractive.

“It would be a huge responsibility to win the entire amount, so I’d prefer to have five numbers resulting in a couple of million dollars,” said Terry Evdokimoff, 74, of Huntington Beach, a retired checker for the International Longshoreman’s union. “On the chance, or off chance, that I did win the entire amount, I’d start donating to my causes, my primary one being Planned Parenthood.”

Mohamed Hassan, 27, of Chino Hills said he would use winnings to promote and accelerate a project he has been working on — developing a mobile app for sharing music.

While dreams are big, odds are small. The chance of winning has been estimated at 1 in more than 300 million.

Those numbers don’t bother Hassan. “That’s the odds from a quantifiable basis,” he said.

Hassan said he believes one’s odds improve when a person is having a good day, as he was Wednesday. Then there’s the factor that he bought his ticket at the Chino Hills 7-Eleven where a winning ticket fetched $528.8 million in 2016.

“I intend on this being a winning ticket, is what I’m saying,” he said.

Staff writers Laylan Connelly, Linh Tat, Susan Christian Goulding and Tyler Shaun Evains contributed to this report.

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