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Mega Million mania grips dream-chasers

Published October 19. 2018 12:30PM

What would I do with nearly $1 billion?

This is the question thousands of local residents are asking themselves today in the run-up to tonight’s historic Mega Millions lottery jackpot.

Thanks to a doubling of the ticket price to $2 and a change in the rules a year ago, making it much more difficult to hit the jackpot, these huge top prizes have become much more frequent.

Before the change, players chose five numbers from 1 to 75 and a Mega number from 1 to 15. Now, players select five numbers from 1 to 70 and a Mega number from 1 to 25.

This gives the player a better chance of winning a smaller prize but a less likely chance of winning the jackpot. The odds of winning tonight’s jackpot are 302,575,350 to 1. The chance of winning back the cost of your $2 ticket is 37 to 1.

Oh, and if you are really adventurous, you can outlay another buck to play the Megaplier, which multiplies any winning, except the jackpot, from two to five times.

If you find these odds staggering, the chances of winning just $1 million in the McDonald’s Monopoly game are 1 in 451,822,158. The odds of winning the Powerball jackpot are slightly better than Mega Millions — 1 in 292,000,000. The Powerball jackpot for Saturday is a not-too-shabby $430 million.

I have asked some of my lottery-playing friends whether they are aware of the staggering odds that must be overcome to win the jackpot. Their response parrots some of the lottery propaganda, such as, “Hey, you never know,” or “someone has to win it, why not me?” or “a dollar and a dream, you know?” (Of course, now to play Mega Millions or the other big-money game, Powerball, requires at least a $2 investment.)

A representative for the Pennsylvania Lottery had this to say about the Mega Millions game: “Nothing beats the thrill of Mega Millions, which is fun and easy to play. The Mega Millions jackpot starts at $40 million, and the sky’s the limit until someone matches the winning numbers and wins.”

The player can select specific numbers or he or she can ask that the numbers be selected randomly, which is the more often chosen option.

Pennsylvania is one of 44 states, the District of Columbia and the Virgin Islands which offer the game. Tonight’s jackpot is the second largest in lottery history. Three winners split a $1.6 billion Powerball jackpot two years ago.

Mega Millions has been growing since July when a group of office workers in California hit a $543 million jackpot, the previous largest in the game’s history.

A survey of several area locations shows that while sales are brisk they are not overwhelming store personnel. That is likely to change as the time of the drawing at 11 p.m. gets closer.

Fred Cannon, grocery manager at Redner’s in Nesquehoning, said sales were going “pretty good.” He detected a lot of interest among his regular customers. Interest was high among his employees, too, he said, who are entered in a pool to try to increase their chances of winning.

Matt Pogar, assistant store manager at Boyer’s in Tamaqua, said there has been a lot of interest among his customers. They especially want to know whether there have been any big winners at his location as the jackpot has grown. So far, he hasn’t been able to give them any positive news on that front.

The manager at the Turkey Hill in Slatington refused to talk to me by phone, saying she is not authorized to talk to the media and, on top of that, told me that I might be a scammer.

So, I decided to talk to a few customers who bought tickets at this Main Street location. A 74-year-old, Jim, of Slatington (wouldn’t give me his last name) bought $15 worth of tickets. He said he starts buying Mega Millions and Powerball tickets when the jackpots get “up there.” Maybe he considers $40 million to be pocket change.

“What would I do with $900 million?” he said, repeating my question. “A lot, trust me.” To get all of the $900 million, Jim would have to take the payments in a 30-year annuity, so, at his age, he might never see all of the money, although his heirs would. If he chose to take a lump-sum payment, the amount of the payout decreases significantly to a little more than $500 million. Oh, and let’s not forget about paying taxes on the winnings.

As for me, I am contemplating what I will buy with the $624 a year I save, tax free, by not playing either of these big-money teases. That’s not a gamble; for me, that is a sure thing. Don’t you just love those odds?

By Bruce Frassinelli | tneditor@tnonline.com

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