Mega Millions jackpot rolls to record $540M; unclaimed prizes await

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

PHOENIX -- The bad news is you didn't win the huge Mega Millions jackpot. The good news is nobody else did either, so we all still have a shot at it and the payoff for the next winner will be huge.

With no ticket matching all five numbers plus the Megaball, the Mega Millions jackpot rolls over into record territory. The grand prize for Friday's drawing was first estimated to be a staggering $476 million. By Wednesday afternoon, that estimate jumped to $500 million -- the largest jackpot in both Mega Millions U.S. lottery history.

The estimate jumped again Thursday morning. The jackpot is now $540 million, which means the cash option is $389 million. That's nearly as large as the second-biggest Mega Millions jackpot.

The winning numbers Tuesday night were: Nine, 19, 34, 44 and 51. The Mega Ball was 24.

While there was no big winner, 47 players came very close, matching all five white balls but missing the sixth number. Each of those tickets is worth $250,000, but not one of them was sold in Arizona.

Another 245 tickets are worth $10,000 each, having matched four white ball plus the Megaball.

How to play

When it comes to picking your numbers, you have three options. You can let the computer choose for you. You can choose your own numbers according to whatever formula you like. The last option is for you to choose either the white numbers or just the Megaball number and let the computer pick the rest.

According to the Arizona Lottery's website, the 10 most drawn balls are 10, 48, 19, 20, four, 28, 29, 36, 45 and two. The most drawn gold ball is nine. The five least drawn balls are seven, 41, 44, eight and 25. The least drawn gold ball is two.

There are nine winning combinations in the Mega Millions game with prizes starting at $2.

Odds of winning the whole enchilada, which means matching all five white balls plus the gold ball, are 1 in slightly less than 176 million. Odds of winning something in the game -- anything from $2 on up -- are approximately 1 on 40.

You have until 6:59 p.m. Arizona time on draw day -- every Tuesday and Friday -- to buy a ticket for that night's game.

If luck favors you and you win, you have 60 days to choose a 26-year annuity or a lump-sum payment. If you don't pick within 60 days, you'll get the annuity. You have six months from the drawing to claim your prize.

Unclaimed prizes

That 180-day clock is ticking for seven ticket holders, and one of those tickets is worth $250,000.

Two tickets from the Dec. 27 Mega Millions drawing, including the $250,000 winner, have gone unclaimed. Those winners have until June 24 to come forward and collect their money. The remaining unclaimed tickets are worth $10,000 each. There's once from Dec. 27, one from March 16, and two each from March 20 and March 27.

There also are unclaimed prizes from several other lottery games.

Friday's drawing

If there is a winner in Friday night's drawing, the jackpot will reset to $12 million. If nobody picks the winning numbers, the jackpot will roll over to next Tuesday's drawing.

Friday's estimated $540 million jackpot shatters the record for Mega Millions prizes. Up until now, the biggest Mega Millions jackpot was $390 million. Now the No. 2 prize, that money went to two winners -- one in Georgia and one in New Jersey -- on March 6, 2007. More recently, a $380 million prize was split between two winners in Washington state and Idaho in January 2011.

A total of 41 other states and the District of Columbia also offer the Mega Millions game. Arizona joined Mega Millions on April 18, 2010.

While Arizonans have won smaller prizes in the game, no jackpot-winning Mega Millions ticket has been sold in Arizona.

According to the Arizona Lottery, money from lottery games, including Mega Millions, has returned nearly $2.7 billion to the state since 1981.

"People and families all over the state are enjoying greater educational opportunities, enhancing their health and wellness, seeing significant economic and business development, and benefiting from a dedication to the environment," the Arizona Lottery's website reads.

Nearly 40 percent of the money generated goes to education, 30 percent to health and welfare, 20 percent to economic development and the remaining money to environmental endeavors.

What's the first thing you would do if you won the Mega Millions jackpot?