Record Mega Millions jackpot sparks lottery fever; jackpot jumps to $640M

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

PHOENIX -- It's the biggest jackpot in lottery history and it's prompting even those who have never played to buy at least one ticket. Mega Millions fever has infected not only Arizona, but most of the nation, as well.

As of Thursday morning, the estimated jackpot was $640 million, having jumped three times since the original estimate of $476 million right after nobody won Tuesday's drawing. The jackpot estimate is based on sales activity, and Mega Millions ticket sales have been gangbusters.

The cash payout option for the $640 million jackpot is $462 million, which quite a bit more than the second biggest Mega Millions jackpot prize. If you take the annuity, you'd get more than $20 million per year for 26 years.

Some stores are seeing lines out the door as dreamers flock to buy tickets, apparently taking to heart the Arizona Lottery's tagline -- you can't win if you don't play. Residents of states that do not take part in the Mega Millions game were making their way to bordering states to buy tickets.

Residents of Utah and Las Vegas, Nev., for example, are driving to the Arizona border to buy their chances for a dream come true. A  store clerk at the Beaver Dam Service Station in Beaver Dam, Ariz. says people have been coming to the store in droves for the past three days.

The situation is similar at Rosie's Den, a cafe in the rural northwestern Arizona community of White Hills, which is 72 miles southeast of Las Vegas. Rosie's is one of the closest points to Nevada for buyers to purchase Mega Millions tickets since Nevada doesn't offer the game.

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.

To put that in perspective, the odds of being struck by lightning in the U.S. at some point during an 80-year lifetime are about 1 in 10,000, according to the National Weather Service. Based on estimated deaths and injuries, you have a 1 in 775,000 chance of being struck by lightning in the U.S. in any given year.

Odds of winning something in the game -- anything from $2 on up -- are much better at approximately 1  in 40.

Arizona has paid out more than $2 million, including 2 $250,000 winners and 16 $10,000 winners, since this jackpot started rolling in January.

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.

The Arizona Lottery suggests that as soon as you buy a ticket, you sign and fill out the back so only you can cash it in.

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.

The Arizona Lottery says you should consider contacting a lawyer and a financial-planning expert to help you manage the details should fortune bestow the jackpot on you.

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 $640 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.

If you won...

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