March 30 has been a good day for minting multimillionaires.
Friday night’s Mega Millions drawing netted $521 million for a single ticket sold in New Jersey, the game’s multistate agency said. The New Jersey Lottery tweeted that the winning ticket was purchased at a Lukoil store in Riverdale, about 30 miles northwest of Midtown Manhattan.
It’s the fourth-largest Mega Millions jackpot ever and comes six years to the day of the biggest jackpot in game history, a monster $656 million pot split three ways.
The winning numbers in Friday’s drawing were 11, 28, 31, 46 and 59, plus Mega Ball 1, the game announced in a news release with not one but two exclamation points.
If these stories of huge lottery payoffs seem familiar, it’s a deliberate move by the Multi-State Lottery Association to get fewer jackpot winners and draw attention to big winners, such as the holder or holders of the New Jersey ticket (and the last big jackpot for Powerball, a $457 million winning ticket sold in Pennsylvania on March 17).
Here’s how Mega Millions used to work: Players picked five numbers from 1 to 75 and a Mega Ball of 1 to 15. The odds of winning the top prize were 1 in 258,890,850.
Then, in October, Mega Millions changed the rules.
Now players pick numbers from 1 to 70 and a Mega Ball of 1 to 25. The odds of winning the jackpot are now 1 in 302,575,350.
Reducing the number of balls for the first five numbers increases the chances of winning a smaller prize, such as winning back your $2 ticket or doubling that to $4. But raising the number of Mega Balls makes it harder to win the jackpot, and in turn, it grows and grows, collecting jackpot chasers who emerge when the payout balloons.
The winner or winners may have a hard time keeping their identities secret. A woman in New Hampshire claimed a $560 million Powerball jackpot in a Jan. 10 drawing and requested to stay anonymous, citing concerns for her safety and evidence that winners have become targets for theft and exploitation. She fought and won a legal battle to mask her identity, a judge ruled March 12.
New Jersey is like most states with laws restricting winner anonymity. The state commission says anyone can get the details about winners after making a formal request. The website stops short of detailing how and when limited liability corporations can be used to claim a prize. Only one person has set up an LLC before claiming a prize, the state lottery told NJ.com.
In 2013, then-Gov. Chris Christie (R) vetoed a bill that would have changed that, suggesting the move would reduce transparency of the game and curb the ability of the commission to highlight winners in advertising.
As for Friday’s draw, two tickets sold in Ohio and Texas matched the five white balls and netted $1 million, the biggest non-jackpot value in the game.
The jackpot has swelled since Jan. 12, the game said, when a $451 million jackpot was claimed by a Florida man. Every time a jackpot is claimed, it resets to a relatively modest $40 million.
Mega Millions will draw for that jackpot Tuesday. But we already know the likelihood that any jackpot winners will emerge. The odds are against it, and that’s by design.