For nearly 30 years, Nidal Khalil heard countless variations of the same question from customers at his Frazier Park shop hoping to hit it big with the lottery.
"Every time they would buy a ticket, they would say, 'When is it going to happen for us? I think it's about our time.' Well, now it's our turn," Khalil said with a hearty laugh when reached by phone Thursday morning.
Hours earlier, Khalil, 54, had learned the Powerball ticket that won its buyer a jackpot of $1.765 billion in Wednesday's drawing was sold at Midway Market & Liquor, the Kern County shop he co-owns with his brother. The store will be awarded about $1 million for selling the winning ticket, according to California Lottery rules.
Khalil's phone was abuzz Wednesday night with congratulations from friends and family as far as his home country of Syria.
"I feel blessed this morning," he said. "After 30 years of selling those tickets, we need a winner. I'm just happy for my customers."
Born in Syria, Khalil arrived in California at age 22, and for a few years he worked in a market and learned the trade. By 1994, his cousin sold Midway Market & Liquor to Khalil and his brother, Tony Khalil.
Over the years, Nidal Khalil, who also goes by Andy, has grown close to the Frazier Park community. His customers are mostly retired locals who come in for groceries, gasoline, beer, liquor and other items.
"They're all very nice people. We have a talk every morning," he said. "I don't know who won. I'm sure it's a local or someone will know them."
The winning ticket sold at Khalil's shop marks the third billion-dollar jackpot won in Southern California in the last year and the second-largest prize in Powerball history.
In November, a $2.04-billion ticket was sold at an Altadena gas station owned by Joseph Chahayed, who, like Khalil, is a Syrian immigrant and won a $1-million prize for selling the ticket. "Seventy-five years old and he refuses to take a day off; he's up at like 5 a.m. every day," Danny Chahayed said at the time about his father, known to many as " Papa Joe." "No one deserves it as much as he does."
And in July, a $1.08-billion ticket was sold at a corner store in downtown Los Angeles owned by a family who immigrated to California from El Salvador. Angelica Menjivar, whose mother, Maria Leticia Menjivar, opened the shop in 2017, said she told her mom they would need to open a business to succeed. "Start with just one," she said. "We're immigrants, and our family has made the business a success, and we have made this our dream. We show that it's possible for anyone to make it."
The July jackpot has yet to be claimed, according to the California Lottery; winners have a full calendar year to come forward.
That ticket sold in downtown L.A. was the last Powerball jackpot winner before Wednesday, a run of 36 straight drawings that marked the first time in history that two consecutive Powerball jackpots topped $1 billion.
It might seem unlikely that the last three Powerball billionaires have all come from California. (In fact, the only other billion-dollar jackpot, in 2016, was split among three winners, including one in the Golden State.) But Californians buy more lottery tickets than any other state or region, said Victor Matheson, economics professor at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., and an expert on lotteries and gambling.
Californians are not inherently more lottery-obsessed than people in other regions, but due to the sheer size of the state, the Golden State purchases 13% of all lottery tickets. With that in mind, the odds of the last three major jackpots being sold in California are 0.2%, Matheson said.
"But that's still 650,000 times more likely than if a random ticket was to win the Powerball," Matheson said. "It's still a rare occurrence and still a bad investment."
The odds of matching all five numbers plus the red Powerball to win the jackpot are 1 in 292.2 million.
The winner of Wednesday's drawing will have the choice between a lump sum of $774.1 million or 30 annual installments totaling $1.765 billion, not including taxes.
Khalil plans to use his winnings for selling the ticket to pay for his children's college tuition. As for his cousin who sold him the business nearly 30 years ago, he also congratulated Khalil.
"He was the first one to send me a text," Khalil said.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.