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Mega Millions began life as the Big Game in August 1996, initially taking place in the six states of Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Virginia and Illinois. It has since evolved into America’s biggest and most widely played multi-state jackpot game, changing its name to Mega Millions in 2002 and covering 43 US states plus the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands. In October 2013 Mega Millions made changes to its matrix with the aim of creating bigger jackpots and better odds.
Since 1998, Mega Millions has been drawn twice a week on Tuesday and Friday evenings at 11pm ET, with the draw taking place in Georgia. It is normally broadcast on WSB-TV.
Mega Millions players pick six numbers from two separate pools – five from a pool containing numbers 1-75 and one from a pool of numbers 1-15. Alternatively you can choose Quick Pick which randomly selects six numbers for you. To win the jackpot all six of your numbers must be drawn, and if you match fewer you still stand a chance of winning a smaller amount.
As well as the main Mega Millions draw, most states offer the Megaplier feature which was added in 2013. Megaplier gives players the chance to multiply non-jackpot prizes by 2, 3, 4 or 5 times. A further draw determines how much the prizes are multiplied by, with odds varying for each amount.
The jackpot for Mega Millions starts at $15 million and increases by $5 million each time the jackpot rolls over. Whenever the jackpot is won it resets to $15 million for the following draw. Mega Millions offers bigger jackpots than any other American lottery game – in fact, in March 2012 the game made history with the largest ever jackpot prize in a lottery game, a world record broken only in 2015 by the Powerball draw. The colossal Mega Millions jackpot of $656 million was shared by three winning tickets across three states. The largest ever jackpot won by a single player was $326 million in 2014. The chances of a player winning the jackpot are estimated at 1 in 258,890,850.
As well as the jackpot there are other prizes available, ranging from $1 for one matching number to $1 million for five matching numbers, both of which can be multiplied using the Megaplier feature.
Mega Millions tickets cost $1 per play, with the Megaplier game costing an extra $1. The minimum age for taking part is 18 except in Arizona, Iowa and Louisiana, where it is 21, and Nebraska where it is 19. If you head to Megamillions.com and select your state from the drop-down menu, you will be taken to the website of your local lottery where you can check numbers, find out who’s won in your state, search local retailers and play other lottery games online.
The most common way to buy Mega Millions tickets is from your local lottery retailer or agent, but some states allow you to purchase tickets online too. There is a Mega Millions mobile app that is available on the Apple App Store and Google Play, but this only allows you to watch the draw live, input your ticket into the app and check results and news updates – you cannot purchase lottery tickets via the app.
Results are available on the Mega Millions homepage. If you're lucky enough to win the jackpot, you can choose to have your prize paid out by either annuity or cash. If you choose the annuity option, you will receive one immediate payment followed by 29 annual payments, with each payment being 5% larger than the previous one. The exact distribution will vary from state to state. With the cash option, you will receive the entire jackpot in one lump sum. You get less overall than the annuity but you have the advantage of receiving the money immediately.
The time period for claiming your prize ranges from 180 days to a year depending on the state. If a prize is not claimed, each state gets back the money that it contributed to the prize pot. Each state uses these funds for a different purpose, players can find out what happens to the unclaimed prize money in their state by contacting their local lottery organiser directly.
Players outside of the US can also participate in the Mega Millions lottery by using a lottery betting bookie such as Coral Lotto - however, rather than playing the actual lottery itself, with a service like this you actually bet on the outcome of the results via the bookmaker, which then pays out the equivalent prize tier amount if you win.