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Mega Millions fever grips New York City

The Mega Millions jackpot, now at $550 million, has kindled "what if" dreams in even the staunchest of non-believers. "I don't even know how to play!" protested Bob Shami, 46, as he handed money to a midtown convenience clerk , permitting a machine to "quick pick" his numbers. But on Saturday, Shami, a media content distributor who lives in Midtown, found a crisp $10 bill in the snow on the Upper West Side and decided to see if his lucky find might be "Mega-plied" into a massive windfall.

He is, he said, like the "guys who don't follow the NBA, but watch the playoffs," unable to resist the media-fed fever about the pot of gold.

Interest in the Mega Millions jackpot "is crazy now," confirmed Indra Bista, a clerk at the 7-11 at 535 Eighth Ave., who plans to play himself before the drawing night. "If you play $10, you get a $2 bonus," in free tickets -- an incentive Bista finds irresistible.

Ticket buyers bubbled about charities they would start, family they would help, and homes they would buy, should their numbers hit. William Adams, 40, a photographer from Jamaica, Queens, said he would "leave New York and come back as a tourist," to experience the activities and cultural offerings he can't enjoy because he's working all the time to afford NYC's astronomical cost of living.

"I don't make the kind of money," to permit investments in gambles such as the stock market, he explained. Traveling tops his list of wants. "I've never been to Hawaii, or even Florida," he said.

Sherry Davis, 47, a ticket agent from Harlem, said she would help people in the Philippines, Haiti and Africa as well as her church. "I would give back," if she won, she said.

The current Mega Millions jackpot is only the second to hit more than $500 million, and has been rolling since Oct. 4, when it stood at a mere $12 million, according to the New York Lottery. Should one person win, the actual cash value would be $295.3 million. But New York City residents, who face a higher tax burden, would actually receive only about a third of the $550 million jackpot -- $183.9 million.

If no one matches all five numbers and the Mega Ball in Tuesday's drawing, the jackpot will roll once again to a sum to be determined by ticket sales in Washington D.C., the Virgin Islands and 44 states that are participating.

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