Includes video report
Waiting with anticipation for that big drawing tonight? Here's a news story and some videos to help pass the time and keep those dreams alive.
Lines have been snaking around stores from coast to coast all week with customers looking to cash in on what has now become the largest lottery jackpot in U.S. history, tonight's $540 million Mega Millions drawing.
A now eye-popping 400 million tickets have been sold in just the last 48 hours for the drawing set to take place at 11 pm Eastern Time Friday at WSB-TV in Atlanta, Georgia — one of the 42 states where Mega Millions is played. Friday's jackpot pushed past what was estimated to be a $476 million jackpot after stronger than anticipated sales nationwide. And it far surpasses the previous record of $390 million.
"Friday night's Mega Millions drawing ... provides an unprecedented opportunity for players to take a chance on a half-billion dollar dream for just the $1 price of a ticket," Gary Grief, lead director for the Mega Millions group said. "We have people coming out that have never bought a ticket before, because they see this number and they think, 'Gee, for just a dollar, I have a chance at a half a billion.' It's hard not to take a chance on that."
If one single winner manages to hit all six numbers of the Mega Millions jackpot, the winner will have the option of receiving 26 annual payments of about $20.7 million, or a cash option of approximately $389.8 million. Hopefuls with lottery fever across the U.S. are strategizing and purchasing dozens — even thousands — of tickets.
Washington Wizards player Chris Singleton — who is bringing in somewhere in the area of $1.5 million this season — is one lottery player who is playing with more than one shot — Singleton thinks he's a slam dunk to win after spending $10,000 on tickets.
In California, lottery officials put out a cheat sheet of which stores have sold the most winning tickets, many of those were packed all night Thursday with lottery hopeful confident that lightning will strike again in the same place.
In fact, California is experiencing a bit of a gold rush this week; thousands have been waiting in line — some for up to six hours — at the Primm Valley Lotto Store on California's Nevada border. Nevada is one of the eight states were you can't buy a Mega Millions ticket, which may be surprising to some given the state's reputation as a gambling mecca.
Gamblers from Las Vegas began to line up at the remote store at 6 a.m. Thursday to get their $1 tickets, according to The Las Vegas Sun.
The state where the winning lottery ticket is sold is also in for a treat. A lump sum payment to a winner will mean millions in taxes paid instantly to the state, which could mean badly-needed funds for education, parks and dozens of other state-funded programs.
The revenue from the sales of tickets is also a boon for the 42 states that participate in Mega Millions drawings, as higher sales equal greater profits.
Each state determines individually how these profits are allocated. Though most states earmark these profits for education, other programs for natural resources, property tax relief and the elderly are in the mix.
The odds of winning Friday's Mega Millions jackpot are downright depressing — a miserable 1 out of 176 million. Yet many Americans are eternally optimistic, with millions dreaming that it's time for their number to come up.
"What if?" Betty Warner of Fargo, North Dakota asked. "You're dreaming. You know, it's your hopes."
Mathematicians are often asked what people can do to improve their odds.
"You would do well to get numbers that most people would think look unlucky, because those would be the ones that nobody would pick," says New York University Mathematics Prof. Sylvain Cappell.
"There are things you should definitely avoid," says fellow NYU Mathematics Professor Charles Newman, "because many people don't avoid them. So there are people who will make numbers based on the patterns they make on the sheet where you fill in the numbers. It's a very bad idea putting money in those."
So if the mathematician were to buy a ticket, what numbers would he pick?
"I choose them at random," says Newman.
Lottery players can see an after-tax analysis of the current Mega Millions jackpot by visiting USA Mega's Jackpot Analysis page.
Lottery players seeking to check the winning numbers Friday night are urged to use USA Mega (www.usamega.com). State lottery Web sites are normally brought to a standstill during busy periods, while USA Mega normally remains responsive.
Mega Millions drawing results will be posted immediately after the 11:00 pm drawing at USA Mega. The number of winners and new jackpot will be announced after all participating Mega Millions states have reported their data, which normally occurs within a couple of hours after the drawing.
Tickets will remain on sale typically until 10:45 pm Eastern Time on Friday, although players should check with a lottery retailer in their state for the exact sales cutoff time. Players are advised not to wait until the last minute.
VIDEO: Watch news reports about the unprecedented drawing taking place tonight