Here’s why there are so many billion-dollar lottery jackpots

One lucky person could win a fortune on Friday in the Mega Millions lottery, which has gone live a whopping $940 million.

Hitting the jackpot would give someone a series of annuity payments for $940 million over 30 years, or the winner could choose a one-time cash option of $483.5 million. The winner will take home the sixth largest lottery prize in US history.

Friday’s draw is one of a growing number of massive jackpots in recent years. A Powerball player in California won a $2 billion jackpot in Novemberwhile two anonymous Mega Millions players in suburban Chicago won a $1.3 billion prize last fall. All told, there have been about six jackpots that have exceeded $1 billion in the past five years, College of the Holy Cross economics professor Victor Matheson told CBS News.

The bigger jackpots aren’t just due to chance, Matheson said. The Multi-State Lottery Association (MUSL), a not-for-profit that coordinates Mega Millions, purposefully designed the game to generate large sums, he added.

In the last decade, MUSL transformed Mega Millions into a national game, made it more difficult to win the jackpot and increased the price of each ticket from $1 to $2. As the Washington Post reported in 2018, the new rules gave Mega Millions contestants more numbers to choose from, making it less likely that they would guess the combination required to win the jackpot.

Higher ticket prices and lower odds of winning mean the jackpot grows faster from week to week, Matheson said.

The eye-catching numbers also make more people buy tickets, which increases the lottery. Americans are 15 times more likely to buy a ticket when the prize is approaching $1 billion than when the prize is only $20 million, he said.

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Of course, the odds of winning are extremely rare. The odds as of Friday were 1 in 300 million, Matheson said.

“To put that into perspective, the typical person who is a golfer would have about a 1-in-15,000 chance of making a hole in one on a particular hole,” Matheson said. “So winning Powerball or Mega Millions is like getting two hole-in-ones in a row when you play golf.”

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