As the Powerball jackpot soared to a record $600 million on Friday -- and likely to rocket even higher before Saturday's drawing -- thousands of Bay Area hopefuls streamed into liquor stores, gas stations and other venues to buy into the game on the slim prospect of utterly changing their lives.
"This is my chance to buy my dream home," gushed 55-year-old Wilma Fernando, of Milpitas, who had just purchased a fistful of Powerball tickets from Ron's Liquors at Flickinger Avenue and Hostetter Road in San Jose.
If she won? She just might "go around the world and help other people," she said, explaining, "I come from a poor family."
Thinking about it a bit more, Fernando, who works as a fab operator at a microelectronics company and is a single mom supporting her 21-year-old daughter, added, "I want my daughter to go to college." Then Fernando darted off to a nearby 7-Eleven to buy more tickets.
Odds of winning the Powerball are pegged at 1 in 175 million. But that hasn't deterred the dreamers hoping to strike it rich. Since sales of the game began in California on April 8, retailers in the state have sold more than $80 million of the $2 tickets. And with the drawing to pick the winner slated for 8 p.m. Saturday, a palpable frenzy has been building for days.
On Friday in California, more than $12 million in sales were recorded, the biggest ever for the Powerball in the state, said Alex Traverso, a spokesman for the California Lottery.
"I would expect tomorrow would be even bigger," he added. "Usually the day of the drawing, business starts to pick up" -- especially when the drawing is on a weekend, when people have more free time to buy tickets.
And that's likely to happen, if the jackpot rises beyond $600 million, which is the most it's been since the $587.5 million mark set on March 30 last year. The only multistate jackpot in the U.S. that was larger was the Mega Millions jackpot in March 2012, which reached $656 million before it was split by three winning tickets.
"If sales are better than expected, it could go up a little more and I expect it will," said Traverso.
In Walnut Creek, friends Vilma Miller and Carolyn Manila stopped by the Chevron gas station on the corner of Oak Grove Road and Treat Boulevard to try their luck. Neither of them are regular Lotto customers, but because the Powerball amount was so high, they thought, "Why not?"
Asked what she'd do if she won, Manila quickly responded that she'd buy a house in Hawaii. Then, after a moment, she said she'd buy one for Miller as well.
Smiling, Miller said, "Nah, I'd buy my own right next door. Then we could be neighbors."
At the Easy Mart on Old Oakland Road and Golden Wheel Park Drive in San Jose, 27-year-old cashier Joe Morales said they'd sold $2,060 worth of Powerball tickets by 5 p.m. Friday.
"That's really big," he said. "We usually sell a couple hundred."
Morales said he even bought a couple for himself, though he added if he won, "I wouldn't know what to do with the money -- probably hide for a while."
Ron's Liquors was buzzing with people lugging out tickets along with bottles of beer and assorted booze. A clerk there said they'd rung up $3,400 worth in Powerball sales so far, and thought the total could reach $5,000 by the end of the day.
One person standing in line at the liquor store was 23-year-old Stephanie Lui, of San Jose. Although she doesn't play Lottery games herself, her mother, who lives in San Francisco, does. And with the Powerball jackpot hitting stratospheric heights, her mom was desperate to get in on the action. So she called her daughter with an urgent appeal.
"She wanted to remind me to get it today before the drawing," Lui said. "She's super excited."
Normally, her mother likes to get tickets from different locations, thinking that increases her chances of winning. But Lui said she had to draw the line.
"I told her I'd just get her one," she said. "I'm not going to go crazy."