For weeks, as the jackpot grew and grew, seemingly every conversation across the country turned to how to spend the millions.
Odds are, you heard someone hatch a plan to buy mansions and yachts as long as a city block. But of course, many are sure to explain, they will divert serious cash to charity, too.
Officials said Tuesday’s Mega Millions drawing would pay out an estimated $1.6 billion to winning jackpot ticket holders, if there were any, after Friday’s already-record-setting drawing ended with no ticket matching all six numbers.
That number is “uncharted territory” for Mega Millions, lottery officials said, though the finalized jackpot was a mere $1.537 billion — just shy of the lottery record.
The jackpot would increase to $2 billion for Friday’s drawing, Maryland Lottery and Gaming spokeswoman Carole Gentry told The Washington Post, if there were no winners.
But the chances were higher than ever that a winner would emerge: Lottery officials estimated that 75 percent of all number combinations had been purchased by the time of the drawing, Gentry said. With more than 300 million possible combinations, the odds of winning were 1 in 302,575,350.
More than one set of winning numbers can be bought, though that would mean two or more people would have to share the massive payout.
Jackpot fever struck nationwide.
On Thursday, ahead of the last drawing, players in California were buying 200 tickets a second, the Associated Press reported.
Back on the East Coast on Friday, about 9,100 tickets were purchased per minute in Maryland in a two-hour window ahead of the drawing, state lottery officials said.
The Virginia Lottery projected that sales after Friday’s drawing through Tuesday’s drawing will have approached $19 million, lottery spokeswoman Jennifer Mullen said. At the sales peak, as many as 12,700 tickets will have been sold per minute, she said.
The deadline for buying tickets in most states is 10:45 p.m. Eastern time, or 15 minutes ahead of the drawing, though some stop sales earlier.
What’s my payout if I win?
The estimated cash option is about $913 million should the winner choose to take a one-time lump-sum payment instead of annual payouts over 30 years, according to Mega Millions officials.
But that’s before taxes. You’d get about half of that after state and federal taxes take a big bite of your winnings, the AP reported. The annual payouts would net a higher payout over time, but you would have to squirrel away enough money to buy, say, a struggling National Football League team.
And if you take the annual payouts rather than the lump sum, you may even be an eventual billionaire. The website USAMega.com breaks down what your winnings could look like after taxes for your state. Even highly taxed states such as New York show figures cresting a billion dollars after 30 years of payments.
Is it me, or are lottery jackpots huge these days?
It’s not just you. Lottery officials count on enormous jackpots to draw in players who would ordinarily avoid participating, so last October they made two big changes. They doubled ticket prices to $2 — and tweaked the formula to make it easier to win smaller prizes but harder to win the jackpot.
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.
In other words, reducing the number of balls for the first five numbers increases the chances of winning a smaller prize. But raising the number of Mega Balls makes it harder to win the jackpot. (You still win the big jackpot by matching all six winning numbers in a drawing.)
Powerball made similar changes to its rules in 2015. That game itself is currently at a monster jackpot, though a small one relative to Mega Millions. The Powerball jackpot stands at $620 million ahead of Wednesday’s drawing.
Do people think they’re going to win?
“I believe I’ve already won,” Joseph Rauch told Reuters, “because I believe in the law of attraction, so what’s meant to be is already going to be.”
Others are self-read experts on how to deal with such an enormous and public prize. “I would incorporate myself as a business and become my own company,” Gregory Baron said in New York City.
And even apparent fatalists are wandering to the corner store for a shot at the jackpot.
Hank Kattan is 75 years old. He does not expect to win at all. And yet:
“I’ll never win, but you got to give it a shot,” he told Reuters. “I’d like to change my way of life.”
Amy B Wang and J. Freedom du Lac contributed to this report.
Perspective: How ’80s excess fueled today’s Mega Millions mania