With the second-largest lottery prize in U.S. history at stake, the Mega Millions fever has struck hundreds, if not thousands, of Brownsville residents in their quest to be the next jackpot winner.

The next drawing happens tonight with an estimated $970 million jackpot on the line.

Lottery officials raised the estimated prize Wednesday, less than a day after another drawing without a winner increased the prize to $868 million.

The largest jackpot was a $1.6 billion Powerball prize won in January 2016, making tonight’s lottery the runner up.

If they win the big prize, some people would use the money to pay bills; others would donate some money to a local church; however, some, such as Brownsville resident Jack Martinez, would use the money to help people in need.

“I always play the lottery and every time I play the lotto, I pay about 10 bucks, but now I’m paying about $20, double,” Martinez said. “The highest I’ve ever won is about $52, but I still keep the dream (alive), you know, maybe one day I will win. … If I won, I’d help a lot of people, anonymously. I hope somebody that deserves it wins.”

Martinez purchased a Mega Millions lottery ticket at the Exxon Food Store off IH69E and Alton Gloor Boulevard in Brownsville and it wasn’t because it was the closest gas station.

The Exxon Food Store in Brownsville has a reputation as the go-to location for buying winning lottery tickets.

Store manager Mildret Rocha said whenever the lottery prize goes up, so do the local Exxon’s sales and customers.

The store has sold a $7.5 million Texas Lottery scratch ticket and two $1 million Mega Millions tickets.

Most recently, Rocha said a customer won $25,000 in September after purchasing a ticket at the store.

“We get excited because we like for the people to win money and the more they win, the more they come and the sales go up,” she said. “We also get kind of a bonus, so it’s better for us.”

For selling a winning $7.5 million scratch off, the Exxon Food store became eligible for a $10,000 bonus.

Rocha said she expects to have a lot of people pour in this morning and afternoon.

Although the local store is known for producing winners, the odds of winning the jackpot are still high, at one in 302.5 million.

As high as the odds are, that won’t stop people, such as Antonio Zavaleta, from giving it shot, who said he has hope he will win something, no matter how small.

“I play every day,” Zavaleta said in Spanish. “I spend $6 to $10 daily. I’ve won twice but only up to 200 bucks. I keep playing, though, because it’s more entertaining than anything else.”

If the Brownsville resident were to win the jackpot, he said would donate some of the money to different people.

“I, personally, would like to win to give some money to the local people who need it the most as well as the store that sold me the ticket and, of course, my church,” he said.

Zavaleta isn’t the only person who would use the money to help others.

The mother and son duo of Herminia and Rafael Garcia also purchased tickets for the Mega Millions jackpot, but said they don’t do it as often as others might.

“We don’t buy tickets every day or even in weeks, but it’s nice to participate and see if you’ll win anything,” Rafael Garcia said in Spanish. “It’s nice to think you’ll win because you’ll be able to give some of that money to your loved ones and to pay all your bills and have an easier life.”

Herminia Garcia said if they were to play often, they would waste a lot of money, in her opinion.

The most money the Garcia’s have won out of lottery tickets has been no more than $20.

Although it’s nice to know there’s a chance they can score big, the Garcias said they aren’t as “ambitious” to the point where they buy tickets every day.

“If I were to win, the first thing I would do is help my church in San Benito,” Herminia said. “Right now, we’re trying to raise funds to fix the ceiling of the church. If I were to win, I would help pay for that project. That’s my ambition, to help my church and to help children who are sick. The money wouldn’t be all for me; I would like to spread some of the fortune to those who need it.”

In spite of the Mega Millions jackpot being an estimated $970 million, Brownsville resident Alma Gomez said she is not interested in winning that lottery and instead focuses on scratch-off tickets.

“I want instant gratification,” Gomez said. “You just take a chance like anything else, although I wish they would break up the big prizes like the lottos and stuff like that into smaller prizes instead of giving like $400 million.

“Break it up and give people more opportunities. Other than that, it’s pleasurable for me. Of course, my bills come first and whatever is leftover is what I get to play.”

Gomez has been successful in her strategy as two months ago she won $5,000 on a crossword scratch-off ticket at the Exxon store.

“Good luck to those trying to hit the (Mega Millions) jackpot,” she said. “I hope it goes to a deserving person.”



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