Record Mega Millions jackpot creates ticket-buying frenzy

Posted at 6:36 PM, Mar 29, 2012
and last updated 2012-03-30 21:18:11-04

(CNN) -- A historic $640 million jackpot is up for grabs Friday as the Mega Millions lottery is living up to its name.

If there is no winner Friday, the jackpot would increase to an estimated $975 million, said Athena Hernandez of the D.C. lottery. That drawing would occur Tuesday.

The multistate jackpot has grown to become the largest ever offered that could be won by an individual. It has captivated the nation, has caused long lines at convenience stores and has many dreaming of creative ways to quit their jobs if they get the lucky numbers.

"Friday night's Mega Millions drawing will truly be a spectacular event in lottery history and provides an unprecedented opportunity for players to take a chance on a half-billion dollar dream for just the $1 price of a ticket," said Gary Grief, executive director of the Texas Lottery and lead director for the Mega Millions group.

Sales have skyrocketed at Manhattan Tobacco, a New York convenience store, said cashier Alex Shanahe. He said the store has proved to be lucky, as it's sold winning tickets of $3 million and $5 million.

"The sales have tripled. Everybody wants to win the Mega Millions," Shanahe said.

A single winner could claim yearly payments or a one-time cash option of $462 million, Mega Millions spokeswoman Kelly Cripe said.

The drawing will be held at 11 p.m. ET Friday, and it can take several hours for lottery officials to determine whether there is a winner and in what state the winning ticket was purchased.

The public can buy tickets Friday until 10:45 p.m. ET, but in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, residents can purchase tickets up until 9:50 p.m. ET Friday because Fridays are a draw night. Oregon residents can buy tickets until 7 p.m. PT Friday.

The Mega Millions lottery is played in 42 states plus the District of Columbia and the Virgin Islands, lottery officials say.

The odds of winning the jackpot are about one in 176 million, which means a person would have a better chance of getting struck by lightning than of winning.

Richard Lustig, a seven-time lottery winner who has written a book about lottery strategies, said it's good to buy tickets as part of a group, to increase "buying power." He also advised against using the automatic "quick pick" option and instead choose your own numbers.

And while the urge to take a chance on such a big jackpot is alluring, Lustig said to guard against getting too enthusiastic.

"Don't go crazy with this," he said. "Don't get what's called lottery fever. Do not spend grocery money. Do not spend rent money."

Myra Langford, a 70-year-old retired school administrator, said she knows the odds but still bought five tickets.

If she wins, Langford said, she will help fix the roof of her church and move out of the cramped Queens apartment she lived in for the past 47 years.

"You got to be in it to win it," Langford said.

Economist Austan Goolsbee, a professor at the University of Chicago who also chaired the White House Council of Economic Advisers, said the winner or winners of the jackpot should take the lump sum instead of the annuity.

The choice comes down to interest rates, and with interest rates at zero, the lump sum just makes better financial sense, Goolsbee said.

"If you are fortunate enough to win the lottery, you most certainly want to take the lump sum," Goolsbee said.

Psychologist Scott Bea told CNN that if a winner is a poor money manager and has been unhappy in life prior to winning, that's likely to continue.

"It solves one problem, but it creates a half billion others," Bea said.

"You have about no chance at winning this, but it really gets people excited," Bea added.

Bea's wife asked him if the couple could spend $10 on lottery tickets.

"We could probably flush it down the toilet and have the same outcome, but if it gives you some hope, why not," Bea said.

CNN's Mary Snow, Michael Martinez, Chris Dignam and Devon Sayers contributed to this report.
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