If one person wins the Mega Millions jackpot on Tuesday evening, they will become one of the 1,500 richest people in America. The $1.6bn jackpot, the most ever given away in a US lottery, would be enough to buy an NFL team, the Washington Post and the most expensive home in New York and still have spare change to buy a few islands and private jets.
The jackpot offered to a winner of Mega Millions, one of two major lottery games played across the US, was $40m in July. Since then no one has won the top prize and so the jackpot has continued to roll over. On Friday, 24 rollovers later, it broke the billion dollar threshold. Despite huge interest and a surge of ticket sales, no one has yet won. The huge prize has led to a surge of interest in the lottery across the US. The Maryland Lottery and Gaming estimates that 75% of the 302m possible number combinations will be chosen by the time of the draw on Tuesday night, up from 59.1% on Friday.
The chances of winning the prize are so minuscule that the old tropes about being more likely to be struck by lightning aren’t even relevant (you are thousands of times more likely to be struck by lightning in your life than win the Mega millions). Still, lottery fever has gripped the nation, with endless local news reports of queues coming out of corner stores and dreams of what players would do with the cash.
In San Diego, roofer and dishwasher Guillermo Carrillo, 42, said he dreams of buying a house for his mother in his native Guatemala. He said he would give money to each of his five sisters also in Guatemala to spend however they like, but would give nothing to his five brothers. For himself, he would buy a house in the San Diego area and replace his old pickup with a new one in his preferred color, red.
Even the already rich are getting involved. Boxer Floyd Mayweather, one of the best paid athletes in the world, spent $2,000 on tickets ahead of Friday’s billion dollar draw.
Financial advice sites like CNBC have started to produce guides for a potential winner, on how to protect yourself from all your greedy family members should you become richer than it’s possible for any normal person to be. They also suggest the winner assembles “a team of experts with experience in helping navigate lottery wins. That should include an attorney, a financial adviser and tax adviser”. There is also a healthy debate among investors about whether the winner should accept the $1.6bn over 30 annual payments, or take a lump sum payment of around $905 million.
Although some lottery profits go to good causes, the game is often criticised for being a tax on the poor. Across the US, people who make less than $10,000 spend an average of $597 on lottery tickets, around 6% of their income. African Americans also spend a disproportionate amount of money on the lottery, spending five times as much on tickets than white people.
The tiny club of lottery winners aren’t immune from financial difficulties either. Incredibly, around 70% of lottery winners go bankrupt within five years of winning their prize, according to research by the National Endowment for Financial Education. The report found players are reckless with their winnings and give too much away to family and friends.