Dreams of $636 million lure Mega Millions players to the near-impossible

Peninsula Daily News
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A last-minute ticket-buying frenzy has pushed tonight's Mega Millions jackpot to $636 million, according to Washington lottery officials. It is the second-biggest lotto prize in U.S. history.

The prize swelled this morning after spike in sales ahead of the drawing at 7:59 p.m. PST. The winning numbers are expected to be posted within the hour at www.megamillions.com.

As much as 70 percent of tickets are typically bought the day of the drawing, according to Paula Otto, Virginia's lottery director who heads the multi-jurisdiction Mega Millions game.

Mega Millions is played in Washington, 42 other states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

If at least one person overcomes the staggering odds to score five numbers and then a specific Mega Ball number from a pool of 75 numbers, that winner can choose between the before-tax jackpot of 636 million in a 29-year annuity or a lump sum of approximately $341.2 million before taxes, Mega Ball officials said.

The odds of hitting five numbers and the specific sixth one out of the 75-ball number pool are 1 in 259 million, said Washington State Lottery officials.

To illustrate the odds, a mathematics professor — who said he bought a Mega Millions ticket anyway — told ABC News that winning the Mega Millions top prize is like picking one single hair from the heads of 8,000 people.

Today's jackpot is the second-largest Mega Millions prize ever, trailing the $656 million jackpot in March 2012.

The current jackpot has rolled over 21 times, thanks to the October game revamp in which the number pool was raised to 75.

The revision was aimed at growing bigger jackpots in a shorter amount of time as well as offering more consolation prizes. For example, a player hitting five numbers but not the Mega Ball number can win a second-tier prize of up to $5 million. Ticket buying reached a fever pitch over the weekend, with 20 percent more chances sold than expected, Otto said.

If no one picks the exact combination of numbers that appear on six randomly selected lottery balls, the prize will keep growing. The next Mega Millions drawing is at 7:59 p.m. PST Friday. If nobody wins the top prize tonight, that jackpot would be around $950 million in the annuity with a cash option of about $505 million, the Washington Times said today.

“We've never had a jackpot this high the week before Christmas,” said Otto, who kept mum on whether she is hoping for the drama that a Christmas Eve drawing could bring.

“You like to see winners and you like to see big jackpots. I leave it in the hands of the bouncing balls,” Otto said.

Last modified: December 17. 2013 10:12AM
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