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Nation/World

December 17, 2013

Mega Millions jackpot could hit $1B by Christmas Eve

DES MOINES, Iowa — The Mega Millions jackpot inched toward a U.S. lottery record yesterday as it soared to $586 million amid a frenzy of ticket purchases, raising the possibility that the prize could pass the once-unthinkable $1 billion mark by Christmas Eve should nobody win before then.

Paula Otto, executive director of the Virginia Lottery and lead director for Mega Millions, said ticket sales were ahead of projections for today’s drawing, increasing the likelihood it could shatter the current record of $656 million, set in a March 2012 Mega Millions drawing.

That was enough for Drew Gentsch to buy one ticket yesterday morning. The attorney from Des Moines never plays, but the ballooning jackpot was too good to pass up.

“I think it’s ridiculous, but you have to dream big,” he said. “The odds of winning are so low, there’s no real reason to play. But it’s fun to do so once in a while.”

The large Mega Millions prize is the product of a major game revamp in October that dramatically lowered the odds of winning the jackpot. If a winner isn’t selected tonight and it rolls over past the next drawing scheduled Friday night, Otto predicts the jackpot will reach $1 billion — an unheard of amount for Mega Millions or Powerball, the nation’s two main lottery games.

“We had predicted last week that if we are still on the same roll on Christmas Eve, we’ll definitely be over a billion,” she said.

Scott Norris, a mathematician from Southern Methodist University, said he estimates around 700 million more tickets must be sold without producing a winner for the jackpot to reach $1 billion on this run. He puts the odds of that around 6 percent.

Norris emphasized that his calculation does not take into account the extra $1 that players can throw in for the Megaplier option, which allows them to increase their non-jackpot prize by up to five times.

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