By Todd Northrop
The United States — perhaps the world — has never witnessed a lottery-buying frenzy like we are seeing this week.
Mega Millions tickets are being bought at such a rapid pace that the state lotteries in the Mega Millions consortium have raised the jackpot estimate for the second time in as many days.
Early Wednesday morning, just after 1:00 am Eastern Time, USA Mega announced the new record Mega Millions jackpot of $476 million after nobody won in the Tuesday evening drawing.
Less than 12 hours later, with lottery tickets already being pumped out at a pace greater than expected, the jackpot estimate was raised to $500 million.
Now, just 24 hours later, the jackpot estimate for Friday's Mega Millions drawing has been raised to $540 million, with a lump-sum cash option of $389.8 million.
That's an increase of $177 million from the Tuesday jackpot of $363 million. And yet, the jackpot will probably be even higher by the time the drawing occurs at 11:00 pm Eastern Time (8:00 pm Pacific Time) tomorrow night.
Surely, tickets are being sold at such a rapid pace that the vast majority of all possible number combinations are being covered — multiple times for many combinations — but one still has to ask: what if just one person wins about $400 million in cash? It's hard for most people to even picture a number that large, let alone manage that much cash.
Perhaps more interesting to imagine is, what if nobody wins Friday?
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.
The odds of winning the jackpot are approximately 1 in 176 million. The odds of winning any of the Mega Millions prizes are approximately 1 in 40.
Lottery players can see an after-tax analysis of the current Mega Millions jackpot by visiting USA Mega's Jackpot Analysis page.
Mega Millions features nine different prize levels, ranging from $2 all the way up to the jackpot. Players can win even if they just match one number — the Mega Ball number.
Most states also offer the Megaplier option for an extra dollar per ticket purchased. The Megaplier multiplies any non-jackpot prizes won by 2, 3, or 4 times, depending on the Megaplier number drawn that evening.
Players who purchase the Megaplier and win second prize will automatically have their prize increased by 4x to $1 million.