BRADENTON -- Manatee County is going Mega Millions crazy.
Since the jackpot of the lottery game, which is played in 43 states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands, reached a whopping $636 million Tuesday, it has been drawing droves of players to Manatee retailers.
"I'm going to build a free open community shelter with my winnings," said Stephanie Suggs, 31, a waitress in a Mega Millions line Tuesday afternoon waiting to purchase 14 $1 tickets at the 7-Eleven at 902 14th St. W.
Mega Millions changed its rules in October to help increase jackpots by lowering the odds of winning the top prize. The chances of winning the jackpot are now about 1 in 259 million.
The drawing, which could result in the second-biggest payout in U.S. history, was at 11 p.m. Tuesday. The numbers pulled are 8,14,17,20,39 with a MegaBall of 7. California Lottery officials said at least one winning ticket was sold in San Jose.
Mega Millions customers came in strong all day, said Moe Compton, a clerk at the 7-Eleven.
"Lots of Mega Millions going out today," Compton said. "People are smiling and saying, 'I'll split it with you' or 'When I win I'll remember you.'"
Suggs obviously has a socially conscious heart. She said she will build a center in Manatee County so people, regardless of income, will have a place to take a shower, get a hot meal and a clean bed.
And she loves the lottery.
"I was down on my luck one day and didn't have food or rent," Suggs said. "I got a scratch-off ticket and won $200, which paid my rent. Lotto can be a saving grace when nothing else is possible."
Suggs cashed in $14 in winnings from the scratch-
off Chocolate Covered 7's to buy her Mega Millions tickets.
John Suggs, Stephanie's nephew, bought a ticket and said he will visit New Jersey with his winnings.
"He has siblings there he has never met," Stephanie Suggs said.
Before he leaves, Stephanie Suggs said she will help him buy a Ford Focus with the winnings.
"It has a great safety record," she said.
Across town, at the Race Trac at 111 12th Ave. E., clerk Toya Martin was bringing good luck to customers Sheila Williams and Evelyn Bishop, who were already making plans for spending the $636 million.
"First, I will thank my heavenly Father," Williams said. "Then, I will take care of my kids and my granddaughter. Then, the Williams family will begin showing up at my door, and there's a lot of them in Bradenton."
Bishop and her husband, Brian, who live in Ellenton, will spend their seventh wedding anniversary on New Year's Eve in Paris, France, after winning Mega Millions.
"I promised Brian I would take him to France," Bishop said.
Both women said Martin sold them their lucky tickets.
Martin also sold tickets to Bob Wright and his grandson, R.J. Grygier, who were visiting some family in Bradenton.
"Don't know yet what I will do with it," Wright said with a grin.
Tickets are selling at a pace that surpassed even the lottery's expectations.
"We estimate by drawing time we'll be about $75 million ahead in sales," Paula Otto, executive director of the Virginia Lottery and lead director for Mega Millions, told the Associated Press. Otto said officials expect about 70 percent of the possible number combinations to be purchased for Tuesday night's drawing.
She also said if a winner isn't selected either Tuesday night or for Friday's drawing, the jackpot could hit $1 billion. The cash option is estimated at $341 million, before taxes.
The all-time Mega Millions record is $656 million in March 2012 in a drawing split among winners in Kansas, Maryland and Illinois.
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or contact him via Twitter @ RichardDymond.