DES MOINES, Iowa - If it seems that giant lottery jackpots have people lining up at convenience stores more frequently, just wait: More big payouts could be coming.
Most attention has been on Powerball jackpots since the game's rules were changed in early 2012 to boost payoffs. For Wednesday's drawing, Powerball's estimated $400 million jackpot will be the nation's fifth-largest ever, though its jackpot hit $590 million earlier this year.
Now organizers of the country's other big lottery, Mega Millions, are planning changes of their own.
Although Mega Millions still holds the record for the largest jackpot in U.S. history -- a $656 million prize in March 2012 -- organizers are hoping to more regularly see huge jackpots by lessening the odds of winning big while upping a player's shot at smaller but still hefty prizes.
Mega Millions doesn't plan to change its $1 ticket price, but an extra $1 option already in the game will be expanded to allow players to increase their secondary prize total to between $1 million and $5 million, a major increase from $250,000.
Game changes also include boosting the starting jackpot from $12 million to $15 million, and allowing the jackpot to grow by at least $5 million between drawings when no top winner is selected.
It's those jackpots, not the name on the game, that ultimately draw in 45-year-old Trent Shenefield.
"Depends on what's up the highest," the electrician said Tuesday while at a QuickTrip convenience store in suburban Kansas City. "I guess everyone wants to win the big one."
But fellow lottery player Bob Knowles, a school bus driver in Iowa, said the changes didn't really matter. The 62-year-old said he purchases tickets for both games several times a week and would be happy with any jackpot.
"That's nice, but I don't care. I can get by with $10 million. I can get by with $3 million," he said after buying Powerball tickets at a grocery store in Des Moines. "I just play along with the Mega and Powerball. What it starts off with would be pretty comfortable for me to win."
The changes take effect for the Oct. 22 drawing and were based on extensive consumer research, said Paula Otto, executive director for the Virginia Lottery and lead director for Mega Millions. She said officials decided not to increase ticket prices, but acknowledged Powerball's success after it increased its ticket prizes from $1 to $2.
"Certainly we were looking at the fact that changes that Powerball made, primarily by increasing the price point, it definitely favorably impacted the jackpot," Otto said. "It's doing what it's supposed to do, which is helping Powerball have bigger jackpots on a pretty consistent basis."
She noted that both games are now sold side by side, as part of a 2010 licensing agreement, in 43 states, plus the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
"It's great to have both games available to players and to have drawings four nights a week. I think that the two games complement each other," Otto said.
The Iowa-based Multi-State Lottery Association is operated by 33 state lotteries that help oversee Powerball. Mega Millions has no central office and is run by individual state lotteries that handle their own accounting matters.
"I applaud them for looking at changes," said Iowa Lottery CEO Terry Rich. "You need to revise, you need to refresh. Any good, big company knows that you need to revitalize your product."
The next Powerball drawing is scheduled Wednesday at 9:59 p.m. CDT.
6 facts about the Powerball jackpot
The latest Powerball jackpot is estimated at $400 million, and it's considered the nation's fifth-largest ever. Here are some things to keep in mind ahead of Wednesday night's drawing.
1. THE ODDS
Remember, a person's odds of winning the jackpot are 1 in 175 million. That's how many combinations are possible with the game's five white balls and one red ball. In this case, there have been 11 drawings since August 10 without a winner.
2. BIG JACKPOTS
A major revamp in January 2012 increased the cost of a Powerball ticket from $1 to $2. It also led to larger jackpots in smaller amounts of time. Of the top 10 Powerball jackpots of all time, nearly half have been recorded after the game change.
3. CONSOLATION PRIZE
Since the revamp, a secondary $1 million prize has made some losers happy anyway. More than 730 people have won $1 million, and more than 120 people have won $2 million through the Power Play option.
4. WHY WAIT FOR THE HYPE?
There's technically no need to wait for a larger jackpot. Whether the jackpot is $40 million or $400 million, your odds of winning the top prize are the same. Whether you buy 1 ticket or 10 tickets, your odds are pretty much the same. A higher jackpot just means there's a higher chance there will be more than one winning ticket.
5. SOMEONE IS GOING TO WIN
The chance of a person's combination being selected remains astronomically high, though the chance that some set of six numbers will be selected is 1. That means even though your chances of winning are slim, the chances that someone else will win are high. Ronald Wasserstein, executive director of the American Statistical Association, said that's what makes people think it could be them. When it's probably not.
6. AGAIN, YOU'RE NOT GOING TO WIN
Remember, you're probably not going to win. Wasserstein said it's hard for people to grasp how small their chances actually are, since no one can really see 175 million of anything. Wasserstein tries to break it down. Take 175 million one-dollar bills and lay them out. Pick one lucky dollar bill that will win you all $175 million. You can line up those dollar bills twice along the edges of the continental United States. Or you can cover 380 football fields. Imagine picking the one lucky dollar bill from those fields, and that's your chance of winning the Powerball jackpot on a single ticket.
Wednesday's Powerball jackpot: $400 million
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