The odds were not in your favor: 1 in 258,890,850.
“You’re about 100 times more likely to die of a flesh-eating bacteria than you are to win the lottery,” Emory University mathematician Aaron Abrams told NPR.
But that didn’t stop people in 43 states — plus the District and the U.S. Virgin Islands — from flooding convenience stores, gas stations, liquor stores and the like to take a shot at the second-largest jackpot in U.S. lottery history: $636 million.
That was the estimated size of Tuesday night’s Mega Millions jackpot — $20 million short of the record, set by in March of 2012, also by the multistate Mega Millions game.
There’s a cash option, by the way, of $341.2 million.
Sales across the country Tuesday, in advance of the drawing, averaged about $500,000 per minute and were expected to peak during the evening rush hour, according to Paula Otto, executive director of the Virginia Lottery.
Otto, who was also serving as lead director of the consortium of states that administers the Mega Millions game, said that in the Old Dominion itself, the Virginia Lottery was doing about a half-million dollars in Mega Millions business each hour.
The Maryland Lottery sold $13,392 in Mega Millions tickets per minute and $223 worth each second between 6 and 7 p.m. — the state’s peak hour, according to director Stephen Martino.
The $1 tickets were moving in such large volume that the Mega Millions jackpot was bumped up by $50 million Tuesday morning. “We raised the estimate because we believed we were on pace to sell about $75 million more tickets than we had originally thought,” Otto said.
The majority of tickets for any lottery sell on the day of the drawing, spiking during morning and evening commutes as well as lunch time, Otto said.
Tickets were sold until 10:45 p.m. Eastern time. The drawing, in Atlanta, came at 11 p.m.
If there’s no jackpot winner, the Mega Millions jackpot for Friday will be set at around $950 million, which would blow past the previous lottery record.
Otto said she isn’t rooting for a particular outcome.
“In my mind, it’s good either way,” she said. “It will be wonderful if we have a winner or several winners. And it will be wonderful if continue this amazing ride up to a record jackpot.”
Either way, there are two certainties: Otto won’t win (lottery employees are prohibited from playing) and, she said, “there will be a lot of million-dollar winners. The second prize in Mega Millions is now at $1 million.” Last Friday, when nobody hit the jackpot, there were nine million-dollar winners, she said. “We could have in the neighborhood of 20 million-dollar winners tonight.”
In Washington, it was a chill and damp Tuesday evening in downtown, but in spots, hope glowed and optimism glinted. These included the places where tickets were sold for the giant lottery drawing.
People were quite purposeful as they assembled quietly in front of the ticket selllers. In the City Market at 17th and M Streets NW, James Taylor, who had already bought more than $35 in tickets, was buying more.
“I just want to buy my mom a huge house in Potomac,” he said. Aside from that, he said, with perhaps a trace of irony, he wanted to “spend lavishly.”
The effervescence occasioned by the giant payoff attracted someone who seldom plays.
Bharath Srinivasan said he heard the talk about it and “figured why not give it a shot.”
At a store on K Street NW, a woman said she too was drawn by the size of the prospective payout.
“No,” she said, “I don’t play often.” But, she said, “it’s really big and I’m really hopeful.”