With the recent Powerball jackpot worth over a billion dollars falling to a lucky player in California, many fair-weather gamblers still want some skin in the game. The good news for them is that Mega Millions is not far behind in terms of jackpot prize value.
Next Estimated Jackpot
CASH OPTION: $422.0 MILLION
Tuesday, 7/25 @ 11 p.m. ET
What’s Up With the Billion Dollar Jackpots?
If it seems like jackpots are higher these days, it is because they are – the biggest prizes also fall less often because the jackpots are harder to win than they used to be, thanks to a rule change a couple of years ago. The longer it takes to win (the more tickets sold) the higher the jackpot grows. There’s also the knock-on effect of bigger jackpots inspiring additional ticket sales in what would seem like a win/win for everybody.
The odds of winning one of the huge prizes have always been astronomical. The odds of claiming the big prize are now just about 1 in 302.5 million, but the fact remains, you can’t win if you don’t play. It’s also good to keep that number in perspective. The entire population of the US, including every man, woman, and child is estimated to be just over 331M – that means that if everyone got a different ticket, the jackpot would be won but it would be shared by two people.
Cut the cash take-home roughly in half for each player, and the chances of becoming an “almost billionaire” are even worse. But that’s no reason not to play.
“Play” is the operative word. Since there is no way to increase your odds, and no single person could ever actually become a billionaire under most circumstances, the only rational way to approach the game is to consider it as fairly cheap entertainment. For a couple of bucks, you can imagine the very real possibility (not the probability) of having enough money to essentially do whatever you would like to, for the rest of your life.
Increased chances come with the same odds, but lower payouts
You can never change the odds. However, by buying more tickets, or by buying more than one ticket with a group of players, you increase your chances to win – but – the amount you could win is cut in half by everybody else who has the same winning numbers.
If you choose your own numbers, there’s a good chance someone else chooses the same ones. Plenty of people’s children have the same birthday, a lot of people are the same age… the point is that statistically, you are better off choosing completely random numbers (such as Quickpick) than choosing your own – the odds remain the same but the chance of having to split the prize goes down the more randomly chosen your numbers are.
Mega Millions, Like Powerball, is a Multi-State Lottery, and the Rules Matter
While Mega Millions tickets are sold by lottery retailers in 45 states, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, they are also sold by bonafide agents, and in many states, that agent can be part of a messenger service. In those cases, you pay a little extra for the ticket but somebody else picks it up for you.
While not legal in every state, we saw an Iraqi man use thelotter.com to buy a ticket a few years ago in Oregon and he was paid directly by the lottery there in the way he chose, and anonymously because of his special circumstances of living in a war zone. Whereas the state usually requires jackpot winners to reveal their identity, that requirement was waived in this situation for obvious reasons.
Even though lotteries operated in concert with the Multi-State Lottery Association (MUSL) have commonalities, most notably a shared jackpot pool, players still need to collect winnings in the state the ticket was sold. You could mail in a winning ticket or claim it in person, but we doubt the US Postal Service would insure a nearly one-billion dollar ticket, or if anyone would want to plop a $0.60 stamp on an envelope with it, drop it in a box, and go about their day. Almost everybody, including the man in Iraq with his messenger service’s help, must claim big winnings in person.
Jackpot winners will only have so many days to claim their prizes – this will vary by jurisdiction but is always at least 90 days from the date of sale. Of course, legal counsel should be sought right away after securing a winning ticket but it should be recorded with the proper lottery authorities and claimed as soon as possible. To drive the expiration date home, the winner of a $1.5B jackpot in California (with 6-month expiry) recently waited until scant hours before the opportunity expired to claim their ticket.
You’ll have to claim the winnings on your tax return and most likely pay taxes on the winnings. Sadly, overall the lottery is already a poor man’s tax – the rich don’t need more money so they play the game less than people who may need it the most, and the odds are simply the worst. That said, the top tax bracket in the US is currency 37% and no matter where you live or how much income you have otherwise, the IRS will take 25% of your winnings before you ever see them.
With all of that…
Two things remain true – you can’t win if you don’t play and you should never expect to win or chase a jackpot, no matter how you choose to gamble.
Source: The Wildest Rules You Didn’t Know Powerball and Mega Millions Winners Must Follow After Hitting the Jackpot, People, July 21, 2023