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Mega Millions jackpot enters ‘uncharted territory’ at record $1.6 billion

Mega Millions hopefuls buy lottery tickets again and again — but how likely is it that any one person will win? (Video: Allie Caren/The Washington Post)

Yes, that headline is correct: The Mega Millions jackpot is at $1.6 billion. With a B.

All eyes were on the latest drawing Friday night, when the jackpot was at an already mind-boggling $1 billion. However, with no ticket matching all six numbers drawn — 15, 23, 53, 65, 70 and Mega Ball 7 — the grand prize now swells to $1.6 billion.

On Saturday the Powerball jackpot also continued to swell, reaching $620 million, after no tickets matched all six numbers (16, 54, 57, 62, 69, and Powerball 23).

The next Mega Millions drawing is at 11 p.m. Eastern time Tuesday, with the Powerball drawing on Wednesday.

“Mega Millions has already entered historic territory, but it’s truly astounding to think that now the jackpot has reached an all-time world record,” Gordon Medenica, lead director of the Mega Millions Group and director of Maryland Lottery and Gaming, said in a statement. “It’s hard to overstate how exciting this is — but now it’s really getting fun.”

Medenica told The Washington Post that about 57 percent of the possible number combinations were purchased in advance of Friday’s drawing and that it was an “extremely pleasant surprise” there was no winner.

“That means the odds were [a winning ticket] would have gotten picked, but it didn’t,” Medenica said. “This is really uncharted territory for all of us.”

What’s more, the jackpot is likely to grow even larger before Tuesday, as word of the record-breaking grand prize grows and prompts even people who don’t normally play the lottery to buy a ticket, Medenica said.

The estimated cash option for a $1.6 billion jackpot — should a winner choose to take a one-time lump sum payment instead of annual payouts over 30 years — is about $905 million, according to Mega Millions officials.

How Mega Millions changed the odds to create record-breaking jackpots

The previous record Mega Millions jackpot was $656 million, claimed in the drawing on Mar. 30, 2012. Winners in Kansas, Illinois and Maryland shared that jackpot.

Though no one won the grand prize outright on Friday, Mega Millions officials said there were 15 tickets sold with numbers that matched all five white balls but not the Mega Ball. Those “second-tier” winning tickets are worth at least $1 million.

The string of enormous Mega Millions jackpots in recent months has been the natural result of officials changing the rules of the game last October.

The officials had been worried that the relatively smaller but more frequent prizes — a “paltry” $100 million, for instance — would result in “jackpot fatigue,” Medenica previously told The Post.

Now, the Mega Millions jackpots grow and grow, creating huge prizes with infrequent payouts. The other significant change that helped fuel the jackpot growth was the increase in the Mega Millions ticket price, which doubled to $2.

Here’s how Mega Millions used to work: Players picked five numbers from 1 to 75 and a Mega number from 1 to 15. The odds of winning the top prize were 1 in 258,890,850.

Since Mega Millions modified the formula, players now pick five numbers from 1 to 70 and a Mega number of 1 to 25. The odds of winning the jackpot are now 1 in 302,575,350.

The modifications had the intended effect. According to the official list of largest Mega Millions jackpots, three of the six top jackpot amounts have been awarded since the rules were changed last year.

A 2016 Powerball jackpot that was worth $1.58 billion is the current record holder for largest jackpot in history. Three winning tickets split that Powerball grand prize that year.

Medenica said every so often, a massive jackpot like this will seize the cultural imagination and prompt a run on tickets.

“It was 2½ years ago that Powerball had this kind of a run,” Medenica said. “I think when these things are separated by years, as they seem to be, they take on a life of their own. It just becomes what everybody’s talking about. . . . Everybody goes out and buys their tickets, has their dream.”

Powerball announced that a single ticket sold at a convenience store in Chicopee, Mass., was the winner of the Aug. 23 $758.7 million jackpot. Here’s how winning the lottery has brought more than a windfall for some. (Video: Taylor Turner/The Washington Post)

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