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Mega Millions jackpot hits $A2.25 billion due to worsening odds

IF IT seems like lottery jackpots are getting larger and larger, it’s because they are getting larger and larger.

Tuesday night’s Mega Millions estimated grand prize has hit a staggering $1.6 billion ($A2.25 billion), continuing a trend of giant jackpots.

It ties the largest lottery prize in US history — and is bound to continue growing — and joins five other top 10 drawings in the last three years.

media_cameraCustomers buy Mega Millions tickets hours before the draw, which had no winner and climbed to US $1.6 billion jackpot. The next draw is on Tuesday. Picture: AFP

Lottery officials changed the odds in recent years to lessen the chance of winning a jackpot, which in turn increased the opportunity for top prizes to reach stratospheric levels.

The theory was that bigger jackpots would draw more attention, leading more players to plop down $2 ($A2.81) for a Mega Millions or Powerball ticket. The more tickets sold, the more the jackpots grow, leading to more players and … you get the idea.

Powerball was the first to try the theory in October 2015, when it changed the potential number combinations. In doing so, Powerball changed the odds of winning the jackpot from one in 175 million to one in 292.2 million.

media_cameraA woman shows her Mega Millions tickets hours before the draw of the US$1 billion jackpot, which had no winner, so the next draw on Tuesday has a jackpot of $1.6 billion. Picture: AFP

Officials at that time also increased the chances of winning small prizes. Mega Millions made similar moves in October 2017, resulting in the odds worsening from one in 259 million to one in 302.5 million.

States have generally reported increased sales since the change.

It’s hard to overstate how fast lottery tickets fly out of the mini marts when the top prizes get so large. In California, for example, the lottery Thursday sold $5.7 million ($A801 million) in Mega Millions tickets during the first half of the day. The height of sales came during the lunch hour, when people were buying 200 tickets per second.

The winner of Tuesday night’s drawing will not take home $1.6 billion. After federal taxes and state deductions, which vary across the country, winners will generally end up with around half that amount to pay for their yacht shopping.

media_cameraPeople line up in the hallway of a midtown New York City office building to buy Mega Millions tickets. Picture: AFP

The annuity option guarantees more money, but it’s paid over 29 years and also would result in a hefty tax bill.

You’re not being rational if you think you have a good chance of winning the jackpot, whether it’s with one ticket or 100. The probabilities are overwhelmingly not in your favour.

How bad are they? Cornelius Nelan, a math professor at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut, notes the odds are about the same as rolling a die and getting a one, 11 times in a row.

Most people don’t expect to win and instead think the $2 ticket is a small price to dream and be part of a wishful conversation with co-workers or family.

media_cameraA paper sign is displayed the counter of a 7-Eleven store shows that the Mega Millions estimated jackpot soared to US$1 billion. It climbed again to US$1.6 billion and will be drawn on Tuesday. Picture: AP Photo

As Jane L. Risen, a professor of behavioural science at the University of Chicago, puts it: When the jackpot grows so large, “it creates this sense of community. It creates this sense of camaraderie. I also think that it creates a potential sense of regret to not be the one playing,” she said.

The Mega Millions $1.6 billion estimated jackpot would be the largest prize in US history.

Mega Millions is played in 44 US states, Washington, D.C., and the US Virgin Islands.

Originally published as Lottery jackpot hits record $A2.25 billion

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