AP

Mega Millions Jackpot Hits Whopping $1.6 Billion

October 22, 2018 - 7:47 am
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CHICAGO (AP) — With the Mega Millions lottery jackpot at a record $1.6 billion, people are snapping up tickets across the U.S.

The Powerball jackpot also has climbed. It's up to an estimated $620 million for Wednesday's drawing. That would make it the fifth-largest jackpot in U.S. history.

But much of the focus has been on Tuesday's Mega Millions drawing and what would be the largest jackpot prize in U.S. history.

From San Diego to New York, people are dreaming of how they would spend the money should they beat the astronomical odds of winning.

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Little Rock, Arkansas, housekeeper LaCrystal White initially said her first order of business would be to pay off bills and student loans, then buy herself a house and car. But the 34-year-old quickly reconsidered.

"Well, first I'm going to give something back to charity. That's what I'm going to do," White said. "I am. I'm going to give back to charity and then I'm going to splurge. Put up college funds for my kids and just set myself up for the rest of my life."

Then she told everyone who was at the gas station where she bought two Mega Millions tickets on Sunday that she would give them $1 million each if she won. She went on to add that she planned to buy more tickets later.

Arkansas is one of 44 states where the Mega Millions is played. It's also played in Washington, D.C., and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

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Nathan Harrell was in downtown Chicago for work Saturday when he stopped in at a 7-Eleven and handed the clerk two $20 bills — one for 10 Powerball tickets at $2 each and the other for 10 Mega Millions at $2 each. It's been a few years since he's spent anything on the lottery.

"It's gotta be in the news for me to think about it," the 36-year-old, who works in finance and lives on the city's North Side, said.

He said he and his wife have talked over the years about what they'd do if they won, and she said she'd keep working. "So she probably wouldn't want me to quit my job," he said.

Harrell said that as he rode the train to work, he had thought about what else he would do. He figures he'd set up a trust fund for his two children.

"We wouldn't sweat the small stuff anymore," he said. "Nothing crazy, but who knows."

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In Phoenix, Tim Masterson, a 41-year-old scientist, ran into Kings Beer & Wine, an upscale convenience store and beer bar, to buy seven Mega Millions tickets while his family waited in the car outside.

Masterson paused when asked what he'd do with the money if he won. After looking at the wide variety of beers and ales on the shelves, he said: "I'd buy a brewery."

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Nebraska mom Michelle Connaghan said she had mentioned the huge Mega Millions jackpot to her children, which led to a discussion of what the family would do with all that money.

"Other than paying off bills and taking care of family, I think I'd have the most fun going around and doing surprise good deeds for people," said Connaghan, 48, as she picked up pizza for her family and a Mega Millions lottery ticket at an Omaha convenience store. "I think that would be wonderful, to have the ability to help somebody who really needs it.

"And I'm sure we'd take some pretty awesome vacations while we were going around doing our surprise good deeds."

CHICAGO (AP) — With the Mega Millions lottery jackpot at a record $1.6 billion, people are snapping up tickets across the U.S.

The Powerball jackpot also has climbed. It's up to an estimated $620 million for Wednesday's drawing. That would make it the fifth-largest jackpot in U.S. history.

But much of the focus has been on Tuesday's Mega Millions drawing and what would be the largest jackpot prize in U.S. history.

From San Diego to New York, people are dreaming of how they would spend the money should they beat the astronomical odds of winning.

Mega Millions is played in 44 states, as well as Washington, D.C., and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Powerball is played in the same places, plus Puerto Rico.

If it seems like lottery jackpots are getting larger and larger, it's because they are getting larger and larger.

Friday night's Mega Millions grand prize of nearly $1 billion continues a trend of giant jackpots, as it's the second-largest lottery prize in U.S. history and joins five other top 10 drawings in the last three years. Lottery officials changed the odds in recent years to lessen the chance of winning a jackpot, which in turn increased the opportunity for top prizes to reach stratospheric levels. The most resent result: A current $970 million Mega Millions jackpot.

A look at how the numbers work out:

WHY REDUCE THE NUMBER OF JACKPOTS?

The theory was that bigger jackpots would draw more attention, leading more players to plop down $2 for a Mega Millions or Powerball ticket. The more tickets sold, the more the jackpots grow, leading to more players and ... you get the idea.

Powerball was the first to try the theory in October 2015, when it changed the potential number combinations. In doing so, Powerball changed the odds of winning the jackpot from one in 175 million to one in 292.2 million. Officials at that time also increased the chances of winning small prizes. Mega Millions made similar moves in October 2017, resulting in the odds worsening from one in 259 million to one in 302.5 million

DID IT WORK?

States have generally reported increased Mega Millions and Powerball sales since the change. But the ever-increasing jackpots have left them ever-more dependent on those massive payouts because prizes that once seemed so immense now seem almost puny in comparison. Consider the current $430 million Powerball jackpot. That's an incredible amount of money, but compared to the Mega Millions prize hovering around $1 billion, it barely seems worth the bother of buying a ticket.

WHEN THE JACKPOT GETS ENORMOUS, WHAT ARE SALES LIKE?

It's hard to overstate how fast lottery tickets fly out of the mini marts when the top prizes get so large. In California, for example, the lottery Thursday sold $5.7 million in Mega Millions tickets during the first half of the day. The height of sales came during the lunch hour, when people were buying 200 tickets per second.

IF I WIN, WHAT MAKES IT INTO THE BANK?

Don't count on making a deposit for anywhere close to $1 billion if you win the Friday night drawing. Nearly all winners take the cash option, which was about $548 million as of Friday morning. After federal taxes and state deductions, which vary across the country, winners will generally end up with around half that amount to pay for their yacht shopping. The annuity option guarantees more money, but it's paid over 29 years and also would result in a hefty tax bill.

GIVEN THE AWFUL ODDS, AM I A SUCKER TO PLAY?

You're not being rational if you think you have a good chance of winning the jackpot, whether it's with one ticket or 100. The probabilities are overwhelmingly not in your favor.

Most people don't expect to win and instead think the $2 ticket is a small price to dream and be part of a wishful conversation with co-workers or family. As Jane L. Risen, a professor of behavioral science at the University of Chicago, puts it: When the jackpot grows so large, "it creates this sense of community. It creates this sense of camaraderie. I also think that it creates a potential sense of regret to not be the one playing," she said.

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