How Mega Millions powered to new lottery jackpot record

his Mega Millions ticket at Towne Market in Phillipsburg, N.J. The jackpot for Friday's drawing was up to $640 million Friday afternoon, or $462 million for the cash up front. MATT SMITH / The Express-Times
his Mega Millions ticket at Towne Market in Phillipsburg, N.J. The jackpot for Friday's drawing was up to $640 million Friday afternoon, or $462 million for the cash up front. MATT SMITH / The Express-Times (A player checks)
Posted: March 31, 2012

It's ironic that Mega Millions had the first jackpot to break not only the $400 million barrier, but the half-billion mark as well.

Wait, this just in: It was up to $640 million Friday afternoon for Friday's 11 o'clock drawing - or $462 million for the cash up front.

Powerball was supposed to be the best hope to annihilate the records.

At least, that was the thinking after the game, also sold in 42 states, doubled the cost of each ticket to $2 in January. The vision was more money for jackpots - and nearly double the odds of rolling over.

Could it be that Powerball blew it, sending players fleeing to Mega Millions, which still costs just a buck?

The evidence says otherwise.

Mega Millions apparently just got lucky.

If players had flocked to Mega Millions immediately, the jackpot would have risen faster than any in the past.

It didn't - not until it shattered records and ignited a media frenzy. Friday morning, ABC's Good Morning, America led its broadcast talking about correspondents around the country covering lottomania.

The previous record of $390 million was set in March 2007 on drawing No. 16.

The current jackpot built more slowly, hitting $363 million on drawing No. 18. And it wasn't competing against any whopping Powerball prize, except in the first two weeks.

A Mega Millions jackpot won just last year, in January, also grew more quickly, reaching $330 million on drawing 16.

So don't credit Powerball.

The difference was simple: Those two earlier jackpots were hit. This one rolled over.

If not for 81-year-old Louisa White of Newport, R.I., hitting Powerball's $310 million jackpot on Feb. 11, maybe that game, with its $2 tickets, would have smoked the records first.

Instead, Mega Millions had its numbers missed.

Amazingly.

The Mega Ball is a number from 1 to 46 - and yet 47 players missed it, after matching the first five numbers. It came out 24.

Result: Blastoff!

Captain, we have reached escape velocity!

Set thrusters for saturation media coverage, Mr. Chekov.

Soaring where no lottery has gone before.

All four growth curves increased exponentially, meaning the bigger each jackpot got, the faster it rose.

This time, topping $100 million took 10 drawings, after the starting point of $12 million. Hitting $200 million took just four more. Two drawings later: $290 million. Very next drawing, for Tuesday: $363 million.

Next, for tonight: $456 million. No wait, $500 million. No, wait, $540 million. No, wait, $640 million.

Wild sales meant multiple estimate revisions.

In just three days, a $277 million increase.

The first $241 million took 16 drawings.

While Powerball was $2.

So don't credit Powerball.

Or doubt that Powerball could challenge this record.

It's all a matter of luck.

For more, go to www.philly.com/philly/news/lottery, www.megamillions.com, or www.powerball.com.


Contact staff writer Peter Mucha at 215-854-4342 or pmucha@phillynews.com.

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