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The Present

Want to win Mega Millions’ $1.6 billion jackpot? Consider these 3 facts first.

(Photo: ANGELA WEISS/AFP/Getty Images)

Key Takeaways
  • The next Mega Millions drawing is scheduled for Oct. 23 at 11 pm E.T.
  • The odds of any one ticket winning are about 1 in 300 million.
  • This might be a record-setting jackpot, but that doesn't mean you have a better chance of winning.

The Mega Millions jackpot has soared to a record-setting $1.6 billion after Friday’s drawing yielded no winners. Now, thousands of people are snatching up $2 tickets ahead of Tuesday’s drawing in an effort to score the unprecedented prize.

“Ultimately, these games, they’re all about the jackpots,” Gordon Medenica, Maryland’s lottery and gaming director, told The Washington Post. “Mega Millions has already entered historic territory, but it’s truly astounding to think that now the jackpot has reached an all-time world record. It’s hard to overstate how exciting this is—but now it’s really getting fun.”

Each Mega Millions ticket contains five numbers ranging from 1 to 70 followed by a single number, known as an Easy/Quick Pick, that ranges from 1 to 25. To win the top jackpot, you need to match all six numbers, and you can choose whether to select each of them manually or have the machine do it for you. Either way, the odds of winning are absolutely abysmal.

The odds of winning

The odds that any one Mega Millions ticket wins the jackpot are 1 in 302,575,350, which is the total amount of number combinations.

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That’s another way of saying that each ticket has a 0.00000033% probability of winning, or a 99.99999967% chance of losing. To put those odds in perspective, you have a better chance of being killed by a vending machine, dying in a terrorist attack on a plane, flipping heads on a coin toss 30 times in a row, getting struck by lightning, and hitting consecutive holes in one on the golf course than you do winning Mega Millions.

Bigger jackpots don’t always mean bigger winnings

In 2017, Mega Millions officials changed the lottery rules to produce bigger jackpots less frequently, a move designed to drive ticket sales and boost hype around the multi-million-dollar top prizes. But just because the jackpots are bigger doesn’t mean your ticket stands a better chance of winning more money. In fact, the opposite is true considering you’re more likely to have to split your winnings with another person who selected the same numbers, as Matt Bailey, a professor of analytics and operations, explained in a recent tweet.

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Steep taxes on lottery winnings

The winner(s) of the Mega Millions lottery will choose to receive the winnings through an annuity spread over 30 years or through a lump sum, which in the case of this $1.6 billion jackpot would be $904,900,000. The federal government would immediately withhold 24% of the winnings, or $217 million, and you’d also face the top federal tax rate of 37 percent. State tax laws on lottery winnings can be as high as 8.8%, however you’d be doubly lucky to win and live in California, Delaware, New Hampshire, Tennessee, Texas, Washington, Wyoming or Florida—these states don’t tax lottery winnings.

In general, lottery winners can expect to forfeit about half of their winnings to the state over time.

Why waste the money?

So, is buying a Mega Millions ticket a stupid investment given the virtual certainty you won’t win the jackpot? Probably. But if you’re the kind of person who doesn’t mind shelling out a few bucks to do some harmless daydreaming or to scheme with your friends about what you’d do with the winnings, then it’s money well spent. As CBS News business analyst Jill Schlesinger pointed out, most people don’t really expect to win.

“Our obsession with lotteries, with gambling, is that unicorn feeling of, like, ‘maybe it’ll be me,'” she said. “They just want to take a moment out of their day to consider how to dream big.”

The next Mega Millions drawing is scheduled for Oct. 23 at 11 pm E.T.

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