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Mega Millions is up to $1.58B. Here's why billion-dollar jackpots are now more common.

Expert's advice on playing Mega Millions
Harvard statistician's advice on playing Mega Millions 03:17

The fortune of a lifetime is waiting to be claimed by a lucky winner in the Mega Millions lottery, which has ballooned to a record $1.58 billion. If it seems like such massive jackpots are occurring more frequently these days, it's not your imagination.

Including Tuesday's upcoming drawing, there have been about half a dozen jackpots that have exceeded $1 billion during the past five years, according to College of the Holy Cross economics professor Victor Matheson. 

And the huge winnings aren't happening by chance, Matheson told CBS News earlier this year. The Multi-State Lottery Association (MUSL), a not-for-profit that coordinates the Mega Millions, has engineered the game to generate even larger sums, he noted.

"Number one, it's now a nation-wide lottery ... which means there are a lot of people contributing to the jackbot," Matheson said. 

Mega Millions' next drawing

The next drawing — slated for 11 p.m. Eastern time on Tuesday — is one of a growing number of massive lottery jackpots in recent years. 

A Powerball player in California won a $2 billion jackpot in November, while two anonymous Mega Millions players in suburban Chicago won a $1.3 billion prize last fall

The largest Mega Millions payout ever won so far happened in October 2018 to a South Carolina resident who won $1.5 billion, lottery officials said.  

Mega millions numbers

Hitting the jackpot would give someone a series of annuity payments for across 30 years, or the winner could opt for a one-time cash option of $757.2 million.

A single winner in Tuesday's drawing would take home the largest prize in Mega Millions history. 

The jackpot rose to its current figure because no one picked the winning numbers — 11, 30, 45, 52 and 56, and Mega Ball 20 — on Friday, August 4.

Feeling lucky? Here's what to do if you win the lottery 05:12

Why are the jackpots getting bigger?

In the past decade, as noted by Matheson, MUSL transformed Mega Millions into a national game, with more people now contributing to the jackpot. On top of that, MUSL doubled the ticket price. 

"They've made these tickets not just a dollar, but $2, which means the jackpot grows twice as fast as it did a decade ago," he said. 

As the Washington Post reported in 2018, the new rules also gave Mega Millions participants more numbers to choose from, making it tougher to guess the combination needed to win the jackpot. Mega Millions is played in 45 states along with Washington, D.C., and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

With the lower odds of picking winning numbers plus higher ticket prices, the jackpot is more likely to grow faster from week to week, Matheson said.

The massive winnings also induce more people to buy tickets, adding to the jackpot. Americans are 15 times more likely to buy a ticket when the lottery's winnings climb toward $1 billion versus when the prize winnings are just $20 million, he said. 

Even though it's tempting to buy a ticket — and to dream of what you'd do with the jackpot — participants have a better chance of being struck by lightning than winning the Mega Millions. The odds of winning Tuesday's drawing is about one in 302.5 million.

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

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