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Friday's Mega Millions jackpot soars to nearly $1 billion. Here's what to know

A Mega Millions ticket is seen as a person makes a purchase inside a convenience store, Aug. 7, 2023, in Kennesaw, Ga.
Mike Stewart
A Mega Millions ticket is seen as a person makes a purchase inside a convenience store, Aug. 7, 2023, in Kennesaw, Ga.

The winning numbers for a nearly $1 billion Mega Millions lottery prize will be drawn Friday night, offering sudden riches to any lucky player who matches them and almost certain disappointment for everyone else.

Since three months have passed without a winner, the Mega Millions jackpot has grown to an estimated $977 million. That large prize reflects the incredibly long odds of winning the jackpot, as the longer the stretch without a winner, the more the prize grows.

The jackpot ranks as the 10th largest in U.S. lottery history — about half the size of a record $2.04 billion Powerball prize won in November 2022.

How do I play?

Players can buy tickets for $2 and select six numbers from separate pools. Five of the selections come from one pool, with different numbers from 1 to 70, and the other is for the Mega Ball, with numbers from 1 to 25. Some states also give players the option of paying more for different options that increase payouts or give people extra sets of numbers.

People can pick their own numbers — and some play the same numbers each time — but most players opt for the quick pick option, which lets a computer generate random numbers.

Mega Millions holds drawings twice a week, at 11 p.m. EDT on Tuesday and Fridays, telecast from a television studio in Atlanta. The numbers are also quickly posted on the game's website.

How much would I win?

A lot, but likely a lot less than you might think.

First, that's because the advertised jackpot of $977 million is for a sole winner who is paid through an annuity, with an initial payment and then annual checks for 29 years. Nearly all winners actually prefer a cash payout, which for Friday night's drawing would be an estimated $461 million — less than half the number splashed across billboards and in neon ads at convenience stores.

Before forking over the money, lottery officials also would deduct 24% for federal taxes. The final tax bill could ultimately be higher though, as some of the winnings could be subject to the top federal tax bracket of 37%. State taxes also could be assessed, depending on where a player bought the winning ticket.

There also is a chance that more than one person will buy a winning ticket — as in 2016, when there were three winning tickets for a $1.6 billion lottery jackpot. Whatever the jackpot amount, it could be divvied into smaller prizes.

So what are the odds?

Focusing on the amount of a jackpot prize misses the greater point — that you almost certainly will not win.

The odds of winning the Mega Millions jackpot are 1 in 302.6 million, and it's those low odds that enable the game to trundle along without a winner for months. If the odds were better, people would win jackpots more frequently, so the top prizes wouldn't grow so large — and entice so many people to play. In fact, Mega Millions lengthened its odds in 2019 in order to create bigger jackpots.

During the current stretch, there hasn't been a jackpot winner since Dec. 8, 2023. That's 29 consecutive drawings without someone matching all the numbers.

That said, lottery officials note there have been millions of winning tickets during that span, with prizes ranging from $2 to $1 million. The key, they say, is to play for fun and take a chance to dream a little, but not with an expectation of getting rich.

And of course, eventually someone will win the jackpot.

Who runs the games?

Mega Millions and Powerball, the other big lottery game, are run separately but both are overseen by state lotteries. Mega Millions is played in 45 states as well as Washington, D.C., and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Powerball also operates in 45 states plus Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The games don't operate in Alabama, Alaska, Hawaii, Nevada or Utah.

Both of the games raise money for the jurisdictions where they operate along with profits from other lottery games, such as scratch tickets. Some states shift the money into their general funds while others use it for specific purposes, such as funding college scholarships or state parks.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

The Associated Press
[Copyright 2024 NPR]