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The Mega Millions Jackpot Is $1.6 Billion. Should You Buy A

edit:casino time:2018-10-24

A man reaches for his Mega Millions tickets hours before the draw of the USD 1 billion jackpot, at the Bluebird Liquor store in Torrance, California on October 19, 2018. (Photo by Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images)

By Aaron Mendelson and Sharon McNary

We all know the chances of winning the lottery are infinitesimally small. But for many, there's that little voice in our heads that whispers "maybe..."

To weigh the pros and cons of playing the gargantuan Mega Millions being drawn Tuesday, our newsroom's biggest lottery cheerleader and our data reporter with a more realistic take on the system sat down on KPCC's Take Two and talked it out. This conversation has been edited for clarity.

Aaron Mendelson, data reporter for KPCC/LAist

I'm a lottery realist. You almost certainly won't win. Don't take it from me — take it from your Mega Millions ticket. Flip it over. Your odds are 1 in 303 million.

That means if you played 303 million times, you'd expect to hit the jackpot once. It's just not going to happen. It's not a question of luck — it's math.

And Mega Millions actually made those odds worse last year, which means fewer winners. That's helped pump up jackpots, including to this one. Lotteries know these big jackpots generate excitement, media coverage — like the conversation we're having right now — and sales.

I wrote about the lottery earlier this year and detailed how lawmakers engineered more multi-million-dollar jackpots to boost sales.

California's lottery really struggling a decade ago, and lawmakers rewrote the law in 2010 to pump up jackpots. Previously, there was a provision requiring 34 cents of every dollar go to schools, but that no longer exists. Now, less than a quarter of every dollar goes to schools.

For that story, I crunched the numbers on California's 20,000-plus lottery retailers, and noticed that here in Southern California, the lottery is actually more popular than rest of the state. We buy more lottery tickets per capita.

During 2016 and 2017, people in Southern California (excluding San Diego and Imperial counties) spent about $411 per person on the lottery. In the rest of the state, that number was $307.

With all that said: It's totally fine to play the lottery if you enjoy it. But don't treat it like it's an investment, because it's an almost-guaranteed money loser. Your odds are better in a casino (and they're not good there, either).

Sharon McNary, infrastructure reporter for KPCC/LAist

I'm actually Lottery Captain here at KPCC/LAist. It's an unofficial, self-conferred title, inducing people to spend $2 a pop on a shared vision of riches when the jackpot gets big.

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