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That's US$1.5 billion with a b; lottery offers Canadians crack at instant wealth

Robert Charbonneau, from St-Donat, Que., holds up $1,000 worth of Powerball tickets for himself and his friends at a convenience store, Tuesday, January 12, 2016 in the border town of Champlain, N.Y. The jackpot has reached a record setting $1.5 billion.
Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
January 12, 2016 - 4:30 PM


CHAMPLAIN, N.Y. - If Lady Luck is on Robert Charbonneau's side in the US$1.5 billion Powerball lottery draw Wednesday night, he jokes that his Quebec hometown may have to close down.

The native of St-Donat left his home north of Montreal at 7 a.m. Tuesday and headed to a convenience store in upper New York state to buy US$1,100 worth of tickets on behalf of 320 people in his town.

"It (the jackpot) is a lot of money, it's crazy, we're all dreaming, it doesn't cost much to dream," Charbonneau said after purchasing what he hopes will be his ticket to financial freedom.

As the frenzy surrounding the record-setting lottery continued to grow, a steady stream of Canadians piled into U.S. border towns seeking to buy tickets.

As of late Tuesday afternoon, the Powerball jackpot had risen to an unprecedented US$1.5 billion (more than $2 billion Canadian) — the largest windfall in U.S. lottery history.


There was no let-up on ticket demand during the two hours The Canadian Press spent just across the U.S. border in Champlain, N.Y., as would-be billionaires put aside the minuscule chance of winning the astronomical jackpot — one in 292.2 million, according to the Multi-State Lottery Association, which runs the game.

"All these people in line, there's your story," joked a U.S. border guard, pointing at the long lineup at the busy Lacolle border crossing.

Many first-time Powerball buyers were among the Canadian contingent. One man from Montreal-area Longueuil bought $200 worth of tickets for himself and work colleagues, but noted his travels would earn him a percentage of any winning combination.

Some of those not fully aware of how the Powerball works consulted with fellow Quebecers in line for advice. One considered going to buy a coffee at the adjoining doughnut shop before her compatriots reminded her the $2 caffeine fix could fetch her another ticket.

Darla Cordes, manager at the Valero gas station and convenience store in Champlain, said the lineups have been crazy since last Friday.

"About 90 per cent of my customers are from Canada," Cordes said in between serving customers as she estimated people are spending between $100 and $500.

Cordes said a Wednesday win would calm things down.

"But if nobody wins, it's going to be a zoo," she added.

At another shop, Montrealers Peter Stocola and Sam Lariccia painstakingly filled out Powerball numbers by hand.

"These are my dad's numbers, these are my grandfather's, I've got to play for my aunts, my uncles, friends," said Stocola, taking care of slip after slip using numbers jotted down on a scrap of paper.

Stocola and Lariccia were playing for a second week after losing out on US$950 million last Saturday.

The twice-weekly jackpot hasn't been won since Nov. 4.

"They are slim, we know," Stocola said of their chances. "It doesn't matter, we could be the one in the 292 million to win. We do the same thing back home — our lottery is so small, but we play every week."

Charbonneau drove 212 kilometres, the dreams of about 320 friends riding on his shoulders.

There were some hiccups as tickets can only be purchased with debit or cash — which left Charbonneau scrambling to get money out of the convenience store's ATM. Having already spent $1,073 on the group, he tacked on $27 worth of tickets bringing the full amount to US$1,100.

Even St-Donat's mayor got in on the hoopla, texting Charbonneau during the drive to ensure he was part of the gang.

What will Charbonneau do if he wins?

"Tabernak!" Charbonneau booms with a laugh. "We'll close the village down and we're all coming down here.

After spending the big bucks, Charbonneau set out for the two-hour drive home through a snowstorm, grabbing a can of beer for what he hopes will be massive celebration come Wednesday night.

"We'll do lots of things, we'll make a lot of people happy," he added.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2016
The Canadian Press

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