Lotto frenzy hits Santa Rosa as jackpot hits $1.6 billion

Local shops see a boom in lotto ticket sales as the Mega Millions jackpot reaches $1.6 billion.|

Buying a new house or car. Helping family. Ending hunger and human trafficking.

Those are just a few of the dreams Sonoma County residents say they would make a reality if they won the record-?breaking $1.6 billion Mega Millions jackpot. In a quest for that life-altering money, locals have lined up in unprecedented numbers at Santa Rosa convenience shops in recent days, buying thousands of dollars in tickets in hopes of defying the lotto’s terrible odds.

“There’s been a line going down all the way to the back of the room,” said Brij Desor, 45, who owns C Market on Lewis Road. “Oh my God, it’s been so busy.”

By noon Monday, he’d sold $900 in Mega Millions tickets, which cost $2 each. Anticipating selling about $15,000 in tickets Tuesday, the date of the next drawing, he called in a second employee to help. He said he’s never seen a rush like it, and many people are playing for the first time.

It’s the largest prize in lotto history, surpassing the $1.586 billion Powerball drawing in 2016 that was shared with winners in California, Florida and Tennessee, according to the lottery website.

“Mega Millions has already entered historic territory, but it’s truly astounding to think that now the jackpot has reached an all-time world record,” Gordon Medenica, lead director of the Mega Millions Group and director of Maryland Lottery and Gaming, said in a statement Saturday. “It’s hard to overstate how exciting this is - but now it’s really getting fun.”

The odds of winning the jackpot are about 1 in 302.6 million, but that dismal fact didn’t damper Candi Norris’ spirits.

“You might as well just do it,” said Norris, who bought three Mega Millions tickets from C Market. “It’s a lot of money.”

The 53-year-old Hidden Valley nanny said the prospect of winning more than a billion dollars is “mind boggling.”

She’d buy homes for her three children and her mother and then hire a financial adviser, she said.

Jackpot winners can choose to take $904 million in cash, or an annuity, with one initial payment and yearly installments over 29 years.

Almost all winners go for the cash, but choosing annuity payments cuts the tax bill and provides a steady income that increases by 5 percent each year. The state automatically deducts 24 percent for federal taxes from winnings of $5,000 or more.

“It’s more of a lark than anything,” said John Schram, a 64-year-old Santa Rosa retiree who bought $50 in tickets at C Market.

“I’m having fun just doing it,” he said. “It would be hard to really think about (winning). It would probably change your whole life. I’m not really sure it would be good for the people who win.”

Vicki Stockette, a Windsor resident who works for food distributor Core-Mark and stocks as many as six Sonoma County convenience stores daily, said the rush is “crazy.” If she won, she’d buy homes, donate to philanthropic causes and buy her husband instruments.

“There are huge lines. People are joking and saying what they’re going to do with their billion dollars,” Stockette, 51, said as she made a delivery at Sam’s Market on Humboldt Street. “Everyone seems to be good humored about it.”

Diamond Sharma, who has worked at the store for about seven years, said customers have poured in at record levels. On average, they’re spending at least $20 on Mega Millions tickets, and overall ticket sales increased from $500 to as much as $3,500 a day, he said.

“People buy tickets to make their dreams come true,” he said.

Greg Coons, a retired engineer who has won about $600 over his decades of playing the lottery, has a strategy. For big jackpots, he’ll hit four or five stores in search of a winning ticket, he said.

If he wins, he’ll pay off his two homes in San Francisco and Kenwood, and then help relatives, Coons, 63, said Monday after buying $40 in Mega Millions tickets from M D Liquor and Food on Sebastopol Road, his second store of the day.

Madan Singh, a partner in the liquor store, said his shop in the last thee years has sold three winning tickets cumulatively valued at $315,000. It’s been busier than ever in recent days. He said one customer spent $400 on tickets prior to last Friday’s drawing, which yielded no jackpot-winning ticket.

“Everyone loves money,” said Singh, 60, who will build a Sikh temple in Santa Rosa and help his family if he wins Tuesday. “That’s why people play.”

You can reach Staff Writer Hannah Beausang at 707-521-5214 or On Twitter @hannahbeausang. The Associated Press contributed reporting.

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