$1B Mega Millions prize a result of long odds, slow sales
The jackpot for the Mega Millions lottery game has grown to nearly $1 billion ahead of Friday night’s drawing after more than four months without a winner thanks to bad luck, poor odds and reduced play partially blamed on the coronavirus pandemic.
It’s only the third time a lottery jackpot has grown so large, but much has changed since the last time such a big prize was up for grabs in 2018. The odds of winning a jackpot remain the same — incredibly small — but for a variety of reasons fewer people are playing Mega Millions or Powerball, the two lottery games offered in most of the country.
And even as the huge Mega Millions prize and a $731.1 million Powerball jackpot won Wednesday by a single ticket sold in Maryland have juiced sales for the games, Maryland lottery director Gordon Medenica noted: “We’re not out of the woods yet.”
Medenica acknowledged sales were dramatically lower before the pandemic, and they tanked even further in the spring and summer.
After a peak in October 2018, Medenica said sales of the big lottery games dropped about 50%, prompting talk among lottery officials about jackpot fatigue. Sales of Mega Millions and Powerball continued to decline after the virus hit along with other lottery games, but while scratch tickets and other instant games rebounded strongly later in the year, national game sales remained moribund.
In response to falling sales, officials updated the national games to reduce starting jackpots from $40 million to $20 million and changed rules about guaranteed minimum increases between drawings. The moves made fiscal sense but they caused jackpots to grow more slowly, further tamping down sales, as demonstrated by the record 37 draws without a winner it took to reach the current Mega Millions jackpot that’s still far less than the all-time highs.
“That’s why it takes so many rolls to get up to a high jackpot level,” Medenica said.
What hasn’t changed are the odds.
By design, Mega Millions and Powerball are relatively generous in awarding small dollar prizes and lottery officials boast there is a roughly one in 24 chance of winning something. But to generate huge jackpots, officials must be absolutely miserly about paying jackpots.
It’s hard to fathom how unlikely it is to beat odds of one in 292.2 million for Powerball or one in 302.5 million for Mega Millions.
To get a sense of your chances, Steven Bleiler, a mathematics and statistics professor at Portland State University, said people should imagine a swimming pool 40 feet (12.2 meters) wide, 120 feet (36.6 meters) long and 5 feet (1.5 meters) deep, filled to the brim with M&Ms, only one of which is green. To win, all a player must do is jump in blindfolded and wade around until finding that single green candy.
Andrew Swift, a mathematics professor at the University of Nebraska-Omaha, put it this way: Your chances of picking up two oysters and finding a pearl in both is about twice as likely as winning either lottery jackpot.
Still, someone always ultimately wins, and it happened again after Wednesday night’s Powerball drawing when a single ticket sold at a convenience store in the small community of Lonaconing, Maryland, hit all six numbers. The winner can take a $716.3 annuity paid over 30 years or a cash prize of $546.8 million.
What comes next is unclear. Some states are banking on growth in online games, but while the 10 states that allow purchases on computers and phone apps are seeing rising sales, such purchases remain a relatively small percentage of overall revenue.
“The current roll has revived the game as it’s been designed,” Medenica said. “Whether we continue to consider making changes or not is to be seen.”The odds of winning a jackpot are small and fewer people are playing Mega Millions or Powerball, the lottery games offered in most of the country.
Mega Millions odds explained: From the monster $1 billion jackpot to 8 smaller prizes
The odds of winning a Mega Millions prize range from 24 to 1 to more than 302 million to 1. MegaMillions.com
The odds of hitting Friday’s $1 billion Mega Millions jackpot are astronomical and the chances of winning a far smaller lottery prize are fairly low too, but that’s part of the fun of dreaming big.
The overall odds of winning something after buying a $2 Mega Millions lottery ticket are 24 to 1.
To begin with there are two sets of Mega Millions balls. Five white balls are drawn out of a drum containing 70 balls. Then one gold Mega ball is drawn out of a second drum with 25 balls.
Players can increase their prize amounts by spending an extra $1 for the Megaplier option to wins two, three, four or on rare occasions five times as much. The Megaplier only applies to non-jackpot prizes.
The Mega Ball – $2
Let’s start with the small prizes.
The odds of your ticket matching only the gold Mega Ball is 37 to 1. On a single $2 ticket purchase, that’s a break even.
1 number plus the Meg Ball – $4
There’s a 1 in 89 chance your $2 gamble will net you $4 — a $2 profit.
2 numbers plus the Mega Ball – $10
It’s a 693 to 1 shot to buy a ticket containing two numbers and the Mega Ball but the payout is a scant $10.
3 numbers – still $10
If your ticket matched three of the five white balls, you still win just $10. The odds of hitting three numbers, but not the Powerball are a tad better than matching two numbers plus the Mega Ball — 606 to 1.
3 numbers plus the Mega Ball – $200
The good news is that the prize amount has finally reached triple digits – $200. Far less encouraging are that the odds of buying a ticket matching three numbers plus the Mega Ball are 14,547 to 1.
These are the biggest winning lottery jackpots in U.S. history and where the upcoming Mega Millions drawing will rank if a winning ticket is sold. Len Melisurgo | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
4 numbers – $500
A ticket that matches four numbers but not Mega Ball is one numbers away from winning serious money, but only gets you $500. It’s a 1 in 38,792 shot to be that fortunate, though.
4 numbers plus the Mega Ball – $10,000
The prize climbs all the way to winning $10,000 if you manage to beat the roughly 931,001 to 1 odds and match four numbers plus the Mega Ball.
Nine third-prize tickets were sold in New Jersey for Tuesday’s drawing. One is worth $20,000 because it was bought with the Megaplier option; the other is valued at $20,000.
5 numbers – $1 million
The life-changing money begins at this prize level. All you have to do to win at least $1 million is match the numbers on the five white balls drawn, but not the Mega Ball. Good luck overcoming the 12,607,306 to 1 odds, though.
Two lottery players in New Jersey beat those odds for Tuesday’s drawing — one in Atlantic City and Somerville — and won $1 million apiece.
Mega Millions jackpot – Big money time
The dream for any lottery player is hitting the jackpot. The odds of buying a ticket that matches all five numbers and the Mega Millions are a ridiculous 302,575,350 to 1.
Thirty-six twice weekly drawings have been held since Adrian Tongson of Racine, Wisc. hit the $119 Mega Millions jackpot on Sep. 15. He claimed the cash prize of $95.4 million on Nov. 10.
If someone hits the jackpot Friday, it will be the third-largest jackpot in U.S. lottery history. The cash option for Friday’s drawing is $739.6 million.
Two Mega Millions jackpots were won in the Garden State last year — $202 million in Edison on February 11 and $123 million in Bayonne on July 24.
This evening drawing will be held at 10:59 p.m. and televised on WABC-7 in New York City and Fox 29 in Philadelphia. NJ.com will publish the winning numbers immediately following the conclusion of the drawing.
Mega Millions tickets cost $2 each and in New Jersey must be bought by 10:45 p.m. on the evening of the drawing. The game is played in 45 states, Washington D.C. and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Jeff Goldman may be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @JGoldmanNJ. Find NJ.com on Facebook.
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Community Rules apply to all content you upload or otherwise submit to this site.Mega Millions odds explained: From the monster $1 billion jackpot to 8 smaller prizes The odds of winning a Mega Millions prize range from 24 to 1 to more than 302 million to 1. MegaMillions.com ]]>