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As Powerball fever heats up, keep your cool

Travelers flying into or out of Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport may have noticed longer lines than usual this week, and we’re not talking about check-in and security.

The Georgia Lottery kiosks in the north and south atriums have been two of the hottest spots in the airport since the Powerball jackpot began rolling in early November — a sure sign that whether you’re coming or going, Powerball mania has hit metro Atlanta.

Powerball sales in Georgia averaged just over $2 million a week in fiscal year 2015. Powerball sales in Georgia this week through Jan. 7 were $14 million with the current Powerball jackpot, now at a historic high of $800 million, fueling those sales.

RELATED: Powerball jackpot hits $800 million: How to play, Quick Pick or not; your odds

The Powerball jackpot, which has rolled 18 times, keeps growing as hopefuls flock to ticket outlets for the chance to become a 0.01 percenter. Approximately $13.7 million has been generated for Georgia’s HOPE and Pre-K programs since the Powerball jackpot began rolling Nov. 7. Forty percent of Powerball sales go toward the educational programs funded.

It doesn’t seem to matter that there is only a 1 in 292.2 million chance of winning, because as everyone knows, you can’t win at all unless you play. And play they have, in some cases spending $100 or more to buy a stack of the $2 tickets and increase the odds of winning.

“People are playing five times as much as normal,” said Ray Sams, manager at the Texaco just off I-20 at Glenwood Avenue. Sams expected to see a boost in sales Friday evening as the after-work crowd comes in to take a last stab at winning. The cutoff for buying tickets is 10 p.m. Saturday.

A big jackpot may be tantalizing to newbies, but some experienced players know better than to be seduced by a big Powerball. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing as far as someone winning inside the city limits,” Nick Oliver, 32, of Atlanta said at a local BP station. Oliver kept it tame, instead just playing the same numbers he always plays in Cash 3 and Cash 4.

Meanwhile, first-time player Denise Thomas, 34, of Decatur could almost taste victory.

“I just want to hit it,” she said. Join the club.

The Georgia Lottery was formed in 1992. Since then, 24 winners in the state have won $22 million or more. The last big Powerball winner in Georgia was a resident of Mableton who walked away with $63 million cash in September 2010. The most recent big winner in Georgia hailed from Stone Mountain and took home almost $174 million from Mega Millions in December 2013, according to data from the Georgia Lottery.

You have to wonder how those winners got so lucky. The odds of almost anything happening to you are greater than winning the Powerball jackpot. You have a better chance of dying by lethal injection (1 in 80,000), becoming a movie star (1 in 1.5 million) or being killed by a falling coconut (1 in 250 million). You also have a better chance of winning any Powerball prize (not the jackpot) with odds of about 1 in 25 million.

Let’s say you manage to beat those crazy odds and end up with a big win of $800 million (or probably more by the time the drawing takes place at 10:59 p.m. Saturday on WSB-TV). You could request a lump-sum payment like most big winners in Georgia and take home about $496 million. Once you give 39.6 percent to the government in the form of federal taxes, you’ll have more than $300 million, but the state will still want its share from you, too.

The other option is an annuity that pays the prize over 29 years in 30 graduated payments. The payments start off small and increase by about 4 to 5 percent each year. Only two Georgia winners in the $22 million-and-over club selected this option. It probably makes sense to go for the whole bit at once because if you’ve already had a once-in-a-lifetime experience, you just never know what could happen to you tomorrow.

But back to that $300 million. There are a lot of things you could do with that kind of money.

You could buy the five-bedroom, four-bath, nearly 3,000-square-foot home with mountain views in Simi Valley, Calif., featured on a luxury real estate website that gives the price upon request. In this case, if you have to ask, you can definitely afford it.

A Lamborghini Veneno, one of the most expensive cars in world, will run only $4.5 million. Of course, they only make a handful of them each year, so you’ll probably have to wait.

If you’re the philanthropic type, you could fully fund the cleanup of Agent Orange and go down in history as helping to repair U.S.-Vietnam relations.

Maybe your aspirations are more down-to-earth, like the guy whose interview went viral after he told a news reporter in Las Vegas that he would spend his Powerball winnings on hookers and cocaine. Or maybe you would choose to spend the money on something less fleeting and more legal.

Thomas of Decatur said she would spend the money on a house, but not a new one.

“I would remodel my house,” she said. “That’s it.”

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About the Author

Nedra Rhone has been a features reporter with the AJC for 10 years. She’s written about everything from fashion to food to news.