Living in the golden age of lottery jackpots

I was forlorn. “We forgot to play,” I told my husband last week, moments before the Mega Millions drawing was set to go off.

Or was it the Powerball?

Does anyone else think all these massive lottery jackpots are running together in their dreams?

It’s easy to confuse them. An Associated Press report I read recently cleverly described the phenomena as “the Golden Age of lottery jackpots.”

As I write this, Friday night’s $1.35 billion (yes, with a “B”) hadn’t yet been drawn. If there was no winner, that prize will get much bigger before the next drawing Tuesday night.

Here’s another shocker. That’s not even the biggest U.S. lottery jackpot ever. In fact, it’s not even the largest Mega Millions prize ever.

Friday’s prize was the second highest Mega Millions jackpot in history. The biggest was a $1.53 billion prize won in South Carolina in 2018.

And the biggest ever in the U.S. of all lottery games? A $2.04 billion Powerball prize claimed with a single ticket in California in November.

It’s not the lottery gods that have been stacking up this huge prize money.

In the fall of 2017, lottery officials approved changes to Mega Millions that significantly lengthened the odds from one in 258.9 million to one in 302.6 million. They made similar changes to Powerball in October 2015, worsening the odds from one in 175.2 million to one in 292.2 million, the Associated Press explained in a story last week.

The idea was that by making jackpots less common, ticket revenue could build up week after week, creating giant prizes that would attract attention and pull in more players who had grown uninterested about a mere $100 million or $200 million prize.

In August 2021, Powerball also added a third weekly drawing, which enabled the jackpot to roll over and grow even more quickly as people had more chances to play, and lose. Mega Millions has stuck with the two weekly drawings.

Thanks to those moves, nine of the top 10 largest lottery prizes have been won since 2017.

It might have worked in generating interest (I am writing about it, after all). But honestly, it didn’t do much to draw me in.

Just like many years past, I still stop and buy a lottery ticket an average of about, ohhh, three times a year. Yes, I’m one of those who usually gets involved only when the office is throwing together a random pool. Or I might stop at Sheetz on my way to work on a rare occasion to pick up a ticket or two when the prize gets ridiculously high — as if those $100 million prize days are no longer big enough to attract my attention.

Truly, those smaller prizes are probably better. You’d pay less taxes.

There was fake news circulating around social media last week that Uncle Sam would collect nearly $850 million in tax from a more-than $1 billion Mega Millions jackpot if the winner selected a lump-sum payout.

AP corrected that by reporting the actual tax bill would be closer to a cool $135 million.

Danielle Frizzi-Babb, spokesperson for the Mega Millions contest, also explained to the AP that lottery winners can choose between receiving their earnings through annual payments, or all at once. For a $1.1 billion jackpot, the choice is between about $569 million lump sum, or annual payments that increase over 30 years, ranging from $16.5 million in the first year to about $68 million in the final year. Whatever option the winner chooses, the federal tax rate of 24 percent is automatically withheld.

So, no matter what type of math you’re using, one thing is for certain. It’s A LOT of cash.

My husband reassured me that day last week when I experienced a brief flash of panic about potentially missing out.

“I played with the crew at work,” he said reassuringly — as if it really was going to matter.

Whew! We were covered.

One of my co-workers told me last week he also didn’t play. He wasn’t worried, though, because his wife played. She bought one ticket.

I guess that’s all you need.

Good luck! And if you win, please remember your favorite newspaper editor.



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