Published 7:01 PM EDT Oct 23, 2018
SAN FRANCISCO – The Mega Millions lottery has created a ticket-buying frenzy with its world-record $1.6 billion jackpot, the result of 25 consecutive drawings in which nobody matched the required six numbers.
One more day without a big winner would send the prize soaring toward an astonishing $2 billion.
While supplying that figure, lottery officials pointed out the likelihood of a winner emerging when the drawing is conducted today at 11 p.m. EDT. By that time they expect about 75 percent of the 302.5 million number combinations to have been purchased as participants snapped up chances to play at a dizzying pace.
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At one point, Floridians were buying nearly 550 tickets per second last weekend, and that was before the stakes nearly doubled from $868 million to the current bonanza. Some convenience store managers wound up setting their signs at $999 million because they only had room for three digits. Others improvised handwritten signs to reflect the actual figure.
Lotto fever grew so intense on Monday that the Mega Millions website crashed.
That was at the ginormous total of $1.6 billion. Going up to $2 billion would be downright absurd. Consider that the $400 million difference has been paid in a Mega Millions jackpot only seven times since this brand of multi-state lottery was instituted under the name of the Big Game in August 1996.
Suddenly, Wednesday’s Powerball drawing seems puny at $620 million, as does the previous Mega Millions record payout of $656 million, shared by winners in Illinois, Kansas and Maryland on March 30, 2012.
The boost in the reward amount has been no accident.
Two years after Powerball increased the odds against winning but also the potential lure, as the size of jackpots built up over winless weeks, Mega Millions followed suit last October. The cost of tickets doubled to $2, the starting prize was set at $40 million and second-tier payouts of $1 million were added.
As the potential windfalls accumulate, the outlandish numbers generate media attention and chatter, which in turn draws interest from members of the public who typically wouldn’t buy tickets.
Matt Carlson, a 33-year-old ironworker, walked into his neighborhood convenience store to get an energy drink on Monday and noticed the $1.6B under the Mega Millions sign, so he purchased a lottery ticket for the first time ever.
“I don’t even know how it works,’’ he said. “I just know they have a drawing, right?’’
Indeed, and five of the 10 largest in U.S. history have taken place over the last three years, not including the impending one that would be the biggest of them all.
But, while colossal by any measure, the payout numbers are not quite what they seem. Whoever claims tonight’s prize would have to pick the 30-year annuity to collect all $1.6 billion. Most winners opt for the cash reward, which, in this case, has risen from an estimated $904 million to $913.7 million, lottery officials said Tuesday.
And depending on the state, tax liabilities could eat up close to half of that total, with the maximum 37 percent federal rate certain to apply.
Money managers also advise lottery players to be wary of common pitfalls that have sent some previous winners into financial ruin. Jay Schechter of Singer Xenos Wealth Management in Miami said some of those traps include:
• Buying expensive luxury items like fancy cars and jewelry, which tend to depreciate.
• Making risky investments, such as purchasing or opening a restaurant, without realizing their failure rate.
• Financially supporting several relatives and friends without understanding the cost.
• Living lavishly while neglecting to put away enough money.
None of those concerns dissuaded Gabriel Ortiz, 28, of Oakland, who was in San Francisco on Monday for a job interview with the post office and decided to buy lottery tickets at a different location after coming up empty in the previous 25 drawings.
Ortiz, who recently quit his job at a bakery, dreams of buying houses for his mother, grandmother and sister, and another one for him and his younger brother to live together.
But he wouldn’t pull out of the workforce if he landed the big windfall, at least not right away.
“If I won, I’d probably work for a couple of years,’’ he said, “because I wouldn’t want anybody to be thinking I’m just some billionaire.’’