It's a great time to be a lottery player in Florida: Powerball is at $360 million and rising, the highest it has been since last year's record $587 million. Meanwhile, at 6 a.m. this morning, Mega Millions tickets went on sale in Florida for the first time. The multi-state jackpot is approaching $200 million.
Mega Millions tickets are now available at the same outlets that sell other Florida lottery products. There are more than 13,000 such venues statewide. Drawings are held at 11 p.m. Tuesday and Friday.
In Mega Millions, players select five of 56 white balls and one of 46 gold balls. The odds of winning the jackpot are approximately one in 175 million, similar to Powerball.
Last year, the Florida Lottery set a sales record of $4.45 billion, and Mega Millions is expected to add about $200 million during its first year. Nonetheless, lottery officials expect drops in Powerball and Florida Lotto sales.
Floridians' cry for Mega Millions accelerated in March 2012, when the jackpot rose to a record $656 million. Three players, in Kansas, Illinois and Maryland, split the prize.
Powerball tickets cost $2. Mega Millions tickets cost $1.
"In all likelihood, the Mega Millions jackpot will be greater than $200 million [if no one hit Tuesday]," said Todd Northrop, of LotteryPost.com, which covers lotteries nationwide. "The main difference between the games is the price point, so Mega Millions may attract a certain player base that is grateful to have a big-jackpot game with a $1 ticket price.
"The fact that the Mega Millions drawings occur on different days than Powerball makes the game compatible to the point that players don't need to play one or the other," Northrop said, "but can instead participate in both, without the need to wait so long between drawings."
He said having two big jackpot games will lead to more-predictable annual revenues, because huge jackpots drive ticket sales.
"It is rare for both games to have 'down' years in the same year, and for players it means more opportunities to play for big jackpots and not feeling left out of playing for a big jackpot that the rest of the country can play — or not putting hundreds of miles on the car by driving to another state for tickets," Northrop said.
In addition to the large jackpot prize, Powerball players win $1 million if they match five of five white balls but miss on the Powerball, and $2 million if they bought the Power Play option. Mega Millions' second-place prize is $250,000.
And if chasing those huge jackpots isn't your thing, there's still our little Florida Lotto, the game played just in this state. That jackpot for Wednesday night? Only nine million... you'll just have to find a way to make do.
The Florida Council on Compulsive Gambling notes that the lottery is the third most-cited primary gambling problem among callers to its hotline, behind slot machines and card games. The number to call for help is 1-888-ADMIT-IT.