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$1.1 Billion Mega Millions Prize Also Can Be Winner for Retailers

DES MOINES, Iowa—An estimated $1.1 billion Mega Millions jackpot drawing Tuesday night has people lined up at convenience stores nationwide to buy tickets in longshot hopes of winning a massive prize, but shop and gas station owners selling the tickets also have a chance at a big-figure bonus.

State lotteries usually reward the owners of business that sell winning jackpot tickets thousands of dollars or even up to $1 million, even before those giant prizes are claimed.

First Things First, What’s the Latest on the Jackpot?

It seems no one can win the Mega Millions jackpot, so it keeps getting larger. The last time someone overcame the odds of 1 in 302.6 million and won the top prize was on Oct. 14. Since then there have been 24 straight drawings without anyone snagging the jackpot. The prize now ranks as the fifth-largest, though it’s still only about half the size of a record $2.04 billion Powerball jackpot, won only a couple months ago by someone in California.

While it seems like forever since someone won, it’s quite a ways from the record of 41 straight drawings that has occurred a couple of times, most recently leading up to that $2.04 billion California prize.

And Who Is the Lucky Californian?

That remains a mystery. The California Lottery hasn’t announced a winner and says its policy is to not acknowledge whether anyone has claimed a prize until a supposedly winning ticket is vetted. All that’s clear is that a ticket matching all six numbers drawn Nov. 9 was sold at Joe’s Service Center in Altadena, an unincorporated community northeast of Los Angeles.

One Winner in Altadena Is Clear

Even if we don’t know anything about the Powerball winner, we know the service center owner, Joe Chahayed, was paid his $1 million bonus by lottery officials. Standing under a sign hoisted by the lottery that read, Billionaire Made Here, and surrounded by dozens of media representatives and well-wishers, Chahayed said he planned to spend the money on his five children and would donate some of it to help his community. He didn’t have a clue who had purchased the winning ticket.

“I wish I knew the person but most people who buy tickets from me are from the neighborhood. I hope one of them will be the winner,” he said.

How Does the Retailer Bonus System Work?

The rules vary from state to state. Ohio, for example, pays up to $100,000 to retailers who sell jackpot-winning tickets. In Illinois, retailers can get up to a $500,000 bonus and in California, that benefit tops out at $1 million. The state lotteries say it’s part of their efforts to encourage retailers to promote ticket sales. Some business owners say they also often see at least a temporary surge in business, as superstitious players stop off to buy their tickets at a spot where someone hit it big.

Powerball Getting Larger Too

Even as the Mega Millions jackpot grows ever larger, the top prize for the Powerball game is also nearing massive status. Ahead of a drawing Monday night, that prize stands at $340 million for players who opt to be paid through an annuity, doled out over 29 years.

If You Buy a Ticket, Don’t Forget

Whether you spend $2 or $200 on Mega Millions or Powerball tickets, your chance of winning are incredibly small. Powerball’s odds of 1 in 292.2 million are a little better than those offered by Mega Millions, but they’re still miserable. Can’t get your mind around that? Andrew Swift, a mathematics professor at the University of Nebraska-Omaha, described it another way, noting the odds of winning for a person who buys a single ticket in either game are a little worse than flipping a coin and getting heads 28 straight times.

And Don’t Forget This Either

Although the publicized annuity prize of $1.1 billion for winning Mega Millions or $340 million for Powerball jackpot get all the attention, winners rarely choose such a long-term payment option. They want their money right now. The cash payout is much smaller, at $568.7 million for Mega Millions and $178.2 million for Powerball.

So as you dream of buying a yacht, maybe for settle for just one rather than two.

Mega Millions is played in 45 states as well as District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

By Scott McFetridge

The Associated Press

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