News

Mega drawing ends days of anticipation

Posted March 30, 2012 12:29 p.m. EDT
Updated March 30, 2012 11:52 p.m. EDT

— The drawing Friday night in the Mega Millions multi-state lottery capped days of eager anticipation among regular lottery players and those lured by possibility of a big payout. A single winner could claim an estimated $640 million prize or annual payments of almost $25 million for 26 years.

Players cast aside concerns about the long odds to take a chance at becoming an overnight multi-millionaire. Lottery officials expected to know within hours if a winning ticket had been sold. If no one wins Friday's jackpot, the Tuesday drawing could be worth almost a billion dollars.

Many players, many strategies

With a jackpot so large, someone theoretically could buy up every possible number combination, thereby guaranteeing a winning ticket — but doing so would mean putting up millions of dollars on the front end.

Then there's logistics. First, if it takes five seconds to fill out each card, you'd need almost 28 years just to mark the bubbles on the game tickets. You'd also use up the national supply of special lottery paper and lottery-machine printing ink well before all your tickets could be printed out.

A jackpot this large also means a greater chance of multiple winners. And if you have to share the jackpot with even one other winner, you'll be down tens of millions of dollars.

Such uncertainty has been little deterrence to players converging on convenience stores in 42 states and Washington, D.C., where Mega Millions tickets are sold.

"That's a lot of money," said Nathan Sheppard, who was buying lottery tickets Friday morning in Raleigh. "Normally, you talk about $2 million to $3 million, and now you're talking about ($640) million. It kind of tickles the ear a little bit."

Amy Schmidt bought $140 in lottery tickets in Raleigh for her office pool. Their strategy involves playing every Mega Ball to ensure that they win something.

"Each of us gave $20, and when we got all of our numbers together, we went and put them in an Excel spreadsheet," Schmidt said.

Derek Allen said he bought 15 tickets at each of four stores out of superstition.

"Good luck to everyone playing, but the winning tickets have already been purchased," Allen said with a laugh.

He said he already knows what he will tell his boss if he picks the right numbers.

"I would call in well," he said, adding after a pause, "Well, I'm not coming to work today.'

Many in Indiana were further encouraged by the promise of freebies: Hoosier Lottery officials were giving away one free Mega Millions ticket to each of the first 540 players at several outlets around the state Friday.

In Indianapolis, college student Chris Stewart said he showed up at the lottery's headquarters at 6:30 a.m., two hours before doors opened, to be first in a line of about 60 people who wanted to claim a free ticket.

"I've never seen a jackpot like this before," said Stewart, who bought five additional tickets for the drawing. "If I won — I mean wow! I just don't know what I'd do. I'd really have to think what I could do with it."

At the Wolf Mart Convenience store in Raleigh, business remained steady through Friday evening. If the winning ticket is sold in North Carolina, the entire state would benefit from the taxes paid on the winnings. At a tax rate of around seven percent, a winning ticket holder in the Tar Heel state could cough up about $40 million off the top.

Odds are long, anticipation high

Mike Catalano, chairman of the mathematics department at Dakota Wesleyan University in Mitchell, S.D., concedes the math is clear: The more tickets you buy, the better chances you have of winning. Better long-shot chances.

"You are about 50 times as likely to get struck by lightning as to win the lottery, based on the 90 people a year getting struck by lightning," Catalano said. "Of course, if you buy 50 tickets, you've equalized your chances of winning the jackpot with getting struck by lightning."

Based on other U.S. averages, you're about 8,000 times more likely to be murdered than to win the lottery, and about 20,000 times more likely to die in a car crash than hit the lucky numbers, Catalano said.

"You might get some psychological enjoyment from playing the lottery, but from a financial standpoint ... you'd be much better off going to Las Vegas and playing blackjack or the slot machines," he said.

For David Kramer, a lawyer in Lincoln, Neb., buying his Mega Millions ticket Thursday wasn't about "the realistic opportunity to win."

"It's the fact that for three days, the daydreaming time about what I would do if I won is great entertainment and, frankly, a very nice release from a normal day," he said.

David Johnson had never played the lottery before Friday, when he grabbed some tickets in Raleigh. Still, he's already made a to-do list in case he wins.

"Call an attorney. Call a financial adviser. Go get a lock box. Hide out for the weekend," Johnson said with a laugh.

Lottery officials are happy to have Friday's record Mega Millions jackpot fueling ticket sales, but even they caution against spending large amounts per person.

"When people ask me, I just tell them that the odds of a lottery game make it a game of fate," said Chuck Strutt, executive director of the Urbandale, Iowa-based Multi-State Lottery Association that oversees the Mega Millions, Powerball and other lotteries. "Just buy a ticket, sit back and see if fate points a finger at you for that day."