By Scott McFetridge | The Associated Press
After a long period of relatively paltry prizes, American lottery players now have a choice of games offering combined jackpots of over $1 billion.
The Mega Millions Tuesday night draw jackpot soared to $600 million, and the top prize in the Powerball game reached $550 million ahead of Wednesday’s draw.
It has been almost two years since the two national lottery games have offered such giant prizes and this is only the second time that both jackpots have topped $500 million.
The projected Mega Millions grand prize is the eighth largest in US history and the Powerball jackpot is the 12th largest. The two still pale in comparison to the biggest prize, a $1.58 billion Powerball jackpot won by three players in 2016.
Lottery prizes have risen more slowly since last spring, when authorities cut guaranteed minimums and stopped promising specific increases as the coronavirus slowed sales.
Carole Gentry, spokeswoman for Maryland Lottery and Gaming, said Monday that the prizes are now huge, mainly because it’s been months since anyone has won either jackpot. But Gentry also speculated that more people were buying tickets because “it’s something fun to focus on in the new year,” causing prices to rise faster.
As fun as it can be to play the games, people need to realize that their chances of winning the big prizes are incredibly small. The odds of winning the Powerball jackpot are one in 292.2 million, and the odds are even worse for Mega Millions at one in 302.5 million.
Jackpots promoted by lotteries also refer to winners taking an annuity option, in which prizes are paid out over 30 years. Almost all winners actually opt for the cash option, which for Mega Millions would now be estimated at $442.4 million and for Powerball at $411.4 million.
Both Mega Millions and Powerball are played in 45 states as well as Washington, DC and the US Virgin Islands. Powerball is also offered in Puerto Rico.