The Mega Millions jackpot is $586 million and growing — along with speculation that it could top $1 billion by Christmas if nobody wins between now and then.
A last minute rush for tickets ahead of the Tuesday evening drawing could push the $586 million above the previous record — a $656 million jackpot that paid out last April.
That would give one lucky winner a cool $316 million cash payout, or even more if sales pass the $656 million benchmark.
“I think we'll be very close to the record, and maybe even surpass it,” said Paula Otto, lead director of Mega Millions.
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“Lotto players are procrastinators. They tend to buy on the day of the draw,” she told the Associated Press.
No matter when you buy, the odds of winning are longer than ever thanks to new rules enacted Oct. 22 by Mega Millions.
Players can now pick five numbers between 1 and 75. It used to be capped at 56.
The Megaball choices were lessened, however, from 1 to 46 to 1 through 15.
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That simple change increased the odds of winning the jackpots from 1 in 176 million to 1 in 259 million — but also increased the number of smaller wins, said Virginia lottery spokesman John Hagerty.
Given that the chances of someone getting a golden ticket are significantly slimmer now, the jackpot could roll over once, twice, and possibly even three times by Dec. 25 — likely putting it at a mind-blowing, record-setting $1 billion.
“It is speculation, but based on sales we’ve seen so far, if this jackpot is still rolling by Christmas, it would almost certainly be $1 billion,” Hagerty said.
Sharon Kei, from Queens, said she’d be happy with anything.
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“Give me another one,” Kei said to the cashier as she bought Mega tickets on her lunch hour at Grand Central Terminal.
“I'm gonna buy five more ... If I ever had a chance to have that fortune, I would set up a nonprofit organization and put the money toward that. Like a Make-a-Wish type of foundation. Whatever people need, I'd give them.”
Anne Nu, on her way home to Michigan, decided to tempt Lady Luck before leaving.
“I don't play that often but I'll play if it's a big amount. I think sometimes people think that because so many people are playing that their odds are lower ... I still say luck is luck, right?,” said the Columbia University business school grad.
Whatever the jackpot is, the winner can count on losing a sizeable portion to Uncle Sam, said Andre McDonnaugh, a financial planner in the city.
“It’s going to be close to 50% — federal, state and city taxes,” said McDonnaugh. “And you have to be careful where you put it. It can add up to an immense amount of taxes if you’re not clear on what you’re doing.”
Otto estimated that between 65% and 75% of the 259 million possible number combinations will be in play when the winning combo is announced Tuesday.
With the stakes so high, whoever wins can count on living among the world’s elite. They’d be richer than Yankee greats Derek Jeter and A-Rod, and even wealthier than pop diva Lady Gaga.
And all the losers can take solace in the fact that they at least got to dream about being rich, said George Mason law professor Lloyd Cohen.
“It's not a bad return on your investment. You spend a few bucks, and you get to dream about escaping your life for a while,” said Cohen, who's written about the lottery.
“You don't expect to make money when you go to the movies, or go skiing, you want to have a good time. That's what this is about,” he said.
With News Wire Services