For the fifth time in its history, Mega Millions will offer a jackpot in excess of a billion dollars, but the cruel truth about lotteries is that people who can least afford it are throwing away on average 47 cents on the dollar every time they buy a ticket.
With a possible 302,575,350 total combinations, the vast majority of players lose every time but some of the biggest losers are victims of fraud other than the suped-up marketing behind state lotteries.
With heightened publicity due to a very large jackpot, Mega Millions officials warn of an uptick in scam attempts as con artists try to take advantage of increased awareness of the game.
After no ticket matched all six numbers drawn Friday night – the white balls 5, 10, 28, 52, and 63, plus the gold Mega Ball 18 – the estimated jackpot is expected to grow to $1.05 billion for the next drawing on Tuesday, August 1.
That prize would equal the fourth-largest Mega Millions jackpot to date, but a winner would only collect $527.9 million if the cash option is selected, and that is before taxes.
The jackpot has been rolling since it was last won in New York on April 18, and Tuesday’s drawing will be the 30th in this current run.
With excitement over the rising jackpot, the number of prizes won across the other eight prize tiers keeps growing.
In the July 28 drawing, there were a total of 76,544,870 chances sold with 3,157,597 winning tickets across all tiers, including 2,049,943 that only paid $2, the price of a ticket.
Of those winners, 586,903 included the optional Megaplier (available in most states with an extra $1 purchase), which multiplies all standard non-jackpot prizes by a factor of 2x to 5x; Friday night’s Megaplier was 5x, so 379,756 tickets that sold for $3 were worth $10 each.
Experts agree that lotteries are regressive taxes on poor people, in that a ticket costs relatively more for a poor person than a rich person, and punitive taxes on the poor and uneducated people who are the most avid buyers.
On those rare super jackpots where the lottery has a positive expected value, rich people swoop in to buy tickets. Lotteries are worse for poor people who have a “smaller margin of error” and can’t survive loss of income that would be negligible for more affluent persons.
State lotteries have the lowest payout rate of any form of legal gambling and they provide a much lower rate of return than the assets that most affluent families typically tend to invest in.
Since the last jackpot was won on April 18, there have been a total of more than 26.4 million winning tickets at prize levels ranging from $2 up to $5 million, out of 620 million tickets sold.
Lottery play was most popular among laborers and least among advanced professionals. Tickets are more likely to be purchased by a person who was out of work than someone who was employed or retired.
Historical data implies that when the economy goes bad, lottery revenues go up, because “when people are feeling desperate, they are more likely to stop by the gas station and buy five lottery tickets, hoping they get a big windfall.”
In 2008, during the height of the global recession, at least 22 of the 42 states with lotteries — including New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut — set sales records.
Researchers have concluded that lotteries set off a vicious cycle that not only exploits low-income individuals’ desires to escape poverty but also directly prevents them from improving upon their financial situations.
Mega Millions is the only lottery game that has awarded four jackpots exceeding $1 billion – one each in 2018, 2021, 2022 and 2023; one more will soon be added to the mix. Tickets are sold in 45 states, Washington, D.C., and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Tickets are $2 each; in most jurisdictions, players can add the Megaplier for an additional $1 to multiply their non-jackpot prizes. Drawings are conducted at 11 p.m. Eastern Time on Tuesdays and Fridays in Atlanta, Georgia.
Half of the proceeds from the sale of each Mega Millions ticket remains in the state where the ticket was sold, where the money supports designated good causes and retailer commissions.