Everyone dreams of winning the lottery and becoming an instant millionaire. Some play Mega Millions in hopes of obtaining this dream. Does Mega Millions give you the golden ticket to becoming rich, or is it simply a scam to take your well-earned cash?
While Mega Millions is as legit as any lottery, it is extremely unlikely that you will win any significant money. The odds of winning the jackpot are 1 in 302.6 million. You are more likely to become president or get struck by lightning than you are to win the jackpot.
Below you will learn about what Mega Millions is, how to play, why it’s technically legitimate, and better ways you can invest your money than on a lottery ticket.
What Is Mega Millions?Mega Millions is an American lottery game that is offered in 45 states, as well as the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The game began on August 31, 1996. It was originally called The Big Game until 2002 when the current title, Mega Millions, was adopted.
The game gives you the chance to win millions or even billions of dollars. The odds of winning, however, are not in your favor, seen as though you only have a 1 in 302.6 million chance of taking home the grand prize. To put it another way, you have a 0.00000033% chance of winning the jackpot, so your chances are slim, to say the least.
Where Can I Get Lottery Tickets?
Although Mega Millions only sells tickets in the locations mentioned above, you don’t have to reside in any of those locations to play. As long as you buy your Mega Millions ticket from a legitimate retailer in one of the approved locations, you can play from anywhere in the world (even if you aren’t a citizen of the United States).
So, you may be wondering, who is considered to be a legitimate retailer? Retailers vary by state, but typically you can buy lottery tickets at various drugstores, gas stations, and convenience stores in your area. To find the exact stores that sell Mega Millions tickets near you, look up your state on the Mega Millions website.
You can also buy tickets online if you live in certain states.
If you live in Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, New Hampshire, North Carolina, North Dakota, or Pennsylvania, you have the option to buy Mega Millions tickets online by registering with your state lottery. If you live in New York or Virginia, you can purchase a subscription for Mega Millions online.
How Much Do Tickets Cost?
Tickets cost $2 per play. However, there are add-ons in some states that you can purchase for an extra dollar (more about this below).
When Do the Drawings Take Place?
Mega Million drawings take place every Tuesday and Friday at 11:00 P.M. Eastern time (ET).
You can typically buy tickets up to 15 minutes before the drawing times except in Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont, where 9:50 P.M. is the deadline.
Where Do the Drawings Take Place?
How Do You Play?
To play, you need to be at least 18 years old. If you are, you are good to go.
The basic idea of Mega Millions is that you pick six numbers, then you wait for the drawing. During the lottery drawing, six different balls are selected, five regular balls and one Mega Ball. If all six of your numbers match the numbers on the balls that were chosen, you win the jackpot.
Selecting Your Numbers
To pick your numbers, you have a couple of options. You can do a “quick pick” in which the lottery machine randomly selects six numbers for you. Or, If you’d prefer, you can select the numbers yourself.
To start, you will pick five different numbers between 1 and 70. These five numbers correlate with the white balls you’ll see during the drawing.
Next, you will select your sixth number by picking a number between 1 and 25. This will be your “Mega Ball” number. Your Mega Ball number can be the same as one of your other five because it is drawn from a separate pool.
If you want to select your numbers based on previous number combinations that have won (even though this won’t increase your likelihood of winning), Mega Millions posts all of the winning numbers on their website.
How Much Can I Win From the Jackpot?
In the past, the Mega Millions jackpot used to start at 40 million dollars, and then it would grow by a minimum of five million dollars every time a drawing took place, but there was no winner.
When these rules were still in place, the largest jackpot ever won was 1.537 billion dollars! The winning ticket was bought in South Carolina by an unknown individual. They claimed their prize money in March of 2019.
However, in 2020 Mega Millions has changed its rules due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Since fewer people have been buying tickets due to federal lockdowns and safety concerns, the starting jackpots and the amount it increases each round will be determined by the number of sales and the interest rates.
The most recent winners under the new rules were a couple from Arizona, who won a jackpot of $414 million on June 9, 2020. Although they technically won $414 million, that wasn’t really what they won.
How much a winner wins is dependent on:
- Which payout option they select (cash option or annual payout)
- Whether or not there are multiple winners
- If they have unpaid financial obligations
Below, I’ve explained the factors that can influence your jackpot winnings in more detail.
Cash Option vs. Annual Payout
The two payout options are the cash option or the annual payout.
The cash option allows you to get your entire lottery winnings in full right away. This option is highly taxable, so you will lose a large chunk of your winnings to state and federal taxes. (We have an awesome tool that helps you calculate the exact amount - you can try it out for free by clicking here.)
The couple from Arizona chose this payout option. After state and federal taxes were taken out, they received $227.8 million instead of the jackpot amount of $414 million.
The annual payout, on the other hand, gives you one initial payment and then larger payments every year for 29 years after that. This payout option is not taxed as highly, so you’ll end up making more money, but you’ll have to wait longer to receive it.For example, if you chose to do the annual payout after winning a $100,000,000 jackpot, you would initially receive a payment of $1.5 million. Then, future payments would grow until they were around $6.2 million per year.
These estimates only take into account the taxes associated with the payment option you choose. However, other factors, such as multiple winners or unpaid debts, can reduce your winnings even more. Check out our annuity calculator to see the exact amounts of the yearly payouts for different jackpot values.
Another thing that can decrease your jackpot winnings is how many winners there are. Typically, the higher the pot, the more winners there will be.
For example, most Mega Million jackpots that have exceeded $330 million have had between 2-4 winning tickets, meaning the money was split two to four ways.
So, if you win, but so do three other people, the pot will be split four ways. Then you still have to take out taxes, resulting in much smaller winnings than you may have anticipated.
Unpaid Financial Obligations
Some states, such as New York, even require you to pay back any public assistance you’ve received within the last decade.
Most states have laws that permit them to take a portion (or maybe even all) of your winnings if you owe money for any of the reasons mentioned above. Each state is a little bit different, so look up your state’s policies to determine how much they can take out of your winnings.
So, how much you win depends on:
- How much the initial jackpot is worth. The higher the jackpot is when you win, the more you’ll have left when all of the taxes and fees are taken out.
- Which payout option you choose. Either way, you’ll pay taxes, but you will pay more if you choose the cash-out option.
- How many winners there are. The more winners, the more people you have to share the jackpot with.
- Whether or not you have outstanding financial obligations. Most states will take a portion of your winnings to pay any outstanding fees. The exact amount varies by state.
How Can I Increase My Chances?
According to this article by Investopedia, although you have pretty much no chance of winning the lottery, there are ways to ever so slightly increase your odds.
They say the best way to increase your odds (by a teeny tiny amount) is to purchase multiple tickets for the same drawing. Your odds do not increase the more frequently you play.
One way to do this is by purchasing Just the Jackpot tickets. Just the jackpot is a special offer only available in some states. This feature allows you to purchase two tickets for $3, meaning you’ll have two tickets for the drawing instead of one. However, these tickets are only applicable to the jackpot, not to any of the other lower-tier prizes (more on this next)!
Do I Have to Get the Jackpot to Win Money?
There are nine different ways you can win money, depending on how many of your numbers match the numbers that were drawn that week. The more numbers you have in common with the numbers drawn, the more money you can win.
If all five of your white ball numbers and your Mega Ball number match those from the drawing, you win the jackpot.
Below, I’ve made a table demonstrating the nine different ways you can win and how much money you will receive.
|Five white balls + Mega Ball||Jackpot||1 in 302,575,350|
|Five white balls||$1,000,000||1 in 12,607,306|
|Four white balls + Mega Ball||$10,000||1 in 931,001|
|Four white balls||$500||1 in 38,792|
|Three white balls + Mega Ball||$200||1 in 14,547|
|Three white balls||$10||1 in 606|
|Two white balls + Mega Ball||$10||1 in 693|
|One white ball + Mega Ball||$4||1 in 693|
|Mega Ball||$2||1 in 37|
As you can see, your odds of winning any of the larger sums of money are extremely unlikely.
How to Increase Non-Jackpot Earnings
Every state, except California, allows you to buy something called a Megaplier for an extra dollar. The Megaplier is a feature that increases non-jackpot winnings by 2, 3, 4, or 5 times, depending on what megaplier number is drawn.
For example, if you had three white balls that matched those drawn, you would normally get $10. However, if you paid for the Megaplier and 4 was drawn, you would get $40.
How Will I Know if I Won?
The winning numbers are announced in multiple ways, including live on television, in newspapers, in the stores where you buy tickets, or on the Mega Millions website.
Mega Millions also has a YouTube channel where they upload videos of the live drawings each week.
Beware of Scams
Recently, Mega Millions has been warning its players that scammers are on the prowl.
These scammers will call, email, send a letter, or message individuals on social media claiming that they won the jackpot. They will then ask the victim to wire them money for “taxes” or “fees” associated with the winnings.
In 2019, one couple from California lost $112,000 to scammers. The elderly couple, who were 85 and 82 years old, received a call from a man who told them they had won a $5.5 million Mega Millions jackpot. The couple was asked to transfer money to the man so that they could pay the taxes associated with their winnings. By the time the couple realized they were being scammed, it was too late, and the crooks were able to get away with their hard-earned cash.
To avoid a similar fate, Mega Millions says to look out for the following warning signs:
- If you didn’t buy a lottery ticket yet someone tells you that you won, you are being scammed.
- If the person who emails you has misspellings and poor grammar, be suspicious.
- If the email is addressed to “sender,” “winner,” or “reader” instead of your name.
- If you are told that you need to keep your “win” confidential, then it is a scam. The scammer doesn’t want you to tell anyone in fear that you will expose their scam or find out they are not legitimate.
- If you have a caller ID on your phone, look at the caller’s area code. If the area code is from a foreign country, that is a red flag. However, sometimes scammers can have fake numbers that look like they are coming from your state. So just because they have the same area code as you do does not mean they are legitimate.
- If they tell you they are going to wire your winnings into your bank account, do not give them your bank information.
- Just because they mention a real lottery doesn’t mean they are affiliated with it. You should always verify their identity by checking on the official lottery website or by calling the official number.
If you think you have been scammed, you can submit a report to your state’s Attorney General.
How Do I Know the Drawings Aren’t Rigged?
Mega Millions takes various security measures to make sure the game is fair:
- The ball machines and the ball sets used for each drawing are randomly selected and certified by outside auditors.
- Each ball machine and ball set goes through pre-drawing trials to assure the numbers being drawn are completely random.
- After each drawing, the ball machine and ball set are also tested to make sure the drawing was fair.
- The ball machines and ball sets are only accessible to the drawing officials. The drawing officials are made up of two lottery employees and one member of an unaffiliated auditing firm.
- All of the steps mentioned above are videotaped for complete transparency.
These security measures take approximately 3 hours to complete. This is a lot of preparation for a drawing that only takes 60 seconds! With all of these safeguards in place, it is highly unlikely that the game is rigged.
So, Is Mega Millions Legit or a Scam?
Mega Millions is as “legit” as any other lottery. While you technically can win money, your odds of winning the jackpot are incredibly unlikely. So, it’s really up to you to decide if it’s worth spending money on something that you have a 99.99999999% chance of losing.
- You are more likely to get arrested. According to an article by Time Magazine, you have a 1 in 3 chance of getting arrested before the age of 23!
- You are more likely to become an astronaut. In 2016, 18,300 people applied to become an astronaut. NASA only picks between eight and 14 people from the pool of applicants. So, these individuals had a 0.04%-0.08% percent chance of getting selected. However, it’s still better than the 0.00000033% chance of winning the lottery.
- You are more likely to date a supermodel. If every man in America was an eligible bachelor (including the married ones), there would be 110 million men. On average, there are about 25 supermodels. This would give every man an 880,000 to 1 chance of landing a date with one of these ladies.
- You are more likely to give birth to conjoined twins. Conjoined twins are twins that are born with their bodies physically connected. Your odds of birthing conjoined twins are 1 in 50,000.
- You are more likely to become an Olympic athlete. Becoming an Olympic athlete takes more skill, discipline, and determination than most people are ever able to achieve. However, your chances of going to the Olympics are 1 in 562,400, which is still better than your odds of winning the jackpot.
- You are more likely to be struck by lightning. Your odds of becoming a lightning victim during your lifetime are 1 in 3000.
- You are more likely to become the president. Typically people become president between the ages of 40-72. Within this time frame, you’d have eight chances to run for president. Your odds of becoming president during those eight elections are 10 million to 1. Not great odds, but still better than the lottery!
- You are more likely to die from a vending machine. Your odds of dying from a vending machine are 1 in 112 million! While dying this way is very unlikely, I still don’t recommend shaking the machine to get that stuck Twix bar.
- You are more likely to die from a venomous animal. You are more likely to die from the venom of bees, snakes, and spiders than you are to win the lottery. Although death rates from venomous animals vary each year, in a study analyzing death rates from venomous animals in the United States between 1979-1990, they found that every million people had a 0.251 chance of dying from venomous animals each year.
Invest Your Money Instead
Some investors have argued that if you put the money you spent on the lottery into an investment account instead, you could save a good amount of money for your future (as opposed to losing it for good).
In an article by Investopedia, the author demonstrates that if you put the same amount of money that you currently put in the lottery into stocks or an individual retirement account (IRA), you can accumulate quite a bit of money over time through compound interest.
For example, if you spend $5 per week on lottery tickets, that equals $260 per year. If you put $5 into the lottery for 20 years, that would be $5,200! If you put that same $5 per week into stocks instead, you would earn approximately 7% each year (based on historical trends). So, after those 20 years have passed, you would end up with around $11,015!
Although there is no guarantee of getting a return in the stock market, the odds are much higher that you will earn money through stocks than the lottery.
Nonetheless, if you think stocks are too risky, you can apply the same ideology to an individual retirement account.
For example, let’s say you spend $250 per year on lottery tickets. If you put that same money into an IRA that had an annual return of about 4%, after 30 years, you would have $15,392 saved for retirement. If you left it in for 40 years, it could be upwards of $25,000!
Another smart way to use your money instead of buying lottery tickets is to invest in real estate. Smart real estate investments can generally make you money in the long run.
If you want to learn how to get started in real estate, check out this video by the Rich Dad Channel. In the video, they go over five different tips for starting your real estate investment journey. This video features Ken McElroy, a well known real estate advisor who helped famous entrepreneur Robert Kiyosaki make millions through various real estate investments.
So if you want to invest in your future instead of giving your money to the lottery, investing in stocks, an IRA, or in real estate is the way to go.
While Mega Millions is not a scam, it isn’t a great way to spend your money since your odds of winning are extremely low. Here are a couple of key points to remember:
- Your chances of winning the lottery are almost none. You have a 0.00000033% chance of winning the jackpot.
- Your odds of winning the lottery do not increase by playing frequently. However, you do have a slightly better chance if you purchase more tickets for the same drawing.
- If you do, in fact, win the lottery, the payment method you choose (cash or annuity), how many winners there are, and whether or not you have outstanding financial payments influence how much you will actually get paid.
- You have a better chance of becoming president, dying from a vending machine, or getting arrested (among many other highly unlikely things) than you do of winning the lottery.
- Investing your money in stocks, an IRA, or in real estate is a better way to use your money and save for your future.
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