Food Town Market saw a flow of lottery ticket buyers before Tuesday night’s draw. Photo: James Tensuan
Food Town Market saw a flow of lottery ticket buyers before Tuesday night’s draw. Photo: James Tensuan

When the Mega Millions jackpot hit an all-time high of $1.6 billion this week people across the country clamored to get a piece of the pie. And Berkeley was no exception. More than a dozen people came into Food Town Market on the corner of Prince and Sacramento streets just hours before Tuesday evening’s draw.

For just $2 people could dream of having as much money as Sheryl Sandberg or Michael Jordan. But, for many, their aspirations were modest: Take care of people closest to them and give some away.

“That’s the dream: I’m going to make everyone happy,” said 53-year-old Mohammad Salim of Berkeley. The Pakistan native has traveled the world and can’t fathom spending the money on himself when others can’t access basic necessities. “It’s selfish,” he said.

Phuong Anh Saeturn, 37, echoed a similar sentiment saying she wants to use the money to take care of her kids: “Who can spend that much money?”

For others, it wasn’t such a mystery.

Tarik K., who declined to give his last name —  in case he won — laid out his plan if his number was drawn: “Keep a low profile, move to Sacramento, get two financial advisors, get a lawyer, diversify the funds, buy real estate, buy into franchises like McDonald’s, Starbucks and Burger King.” Then he’ll watch that money grow.

The 37-year-old opened his brown leather wallet to reveal a stack of lottery tickets. He’s gone store to store in an attempt to spread a wide net and had spent $100 on tickets at the time of this report.

Another strategy took shape in the form of a yellow piece of paper. Susana Hernandez, 34, came with a handwritten note from her mother. The note had the birthdays of family members in six number sequences, exactly the lottery’s format.

“If it’s not your birthday you’re not lucky,” joked Jay Mo, who sold her the ticket.

Mo, 30, has worked at the store for six years and has never sold a winning ticket. But he said he was hopeful this time.

If his store had sold the winning ticket, he would make a cool $1 million dollars in bonuses from the lottery system. Regardless of the potential payout, he also bought 10 tickets.

“If you don’t play you can’t win,” he said. It is an idea that’s repeated often.

“I’d be dumb not to play,” said Eddie Slaughter, 51, who works at the barbershop connected to the store. He didn’t think he’d win, but said, “Your chances are as good as anybody else’s.”

And those chances were slim. The odds of winning the jackpot were one in 302 million. But people came in anyway, because one in 302 million is better than zero.

The winning numbers were drawn Tuesday at 8 p.m., and a ticket bought in South Carolina scooped $1.537 billion. Some tickets sold in California, including in Stockton and San Francisco, produced five out of six numbers. Those pay out $1 million.

James Tensuan is a master’s candidate at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism.