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Why are the Mega Millions jackpots getting higher?

In 2017, officials approved changes to the game that decreased the odds of winning the jackpot.
Sign displays $1.1 billion Mega Millions jackpot.
A Mega Million sign displays the estimated jackpot of $1.1 Billion at the Fuel On Convenience store in Pittsburgh, Monday, Jan. 9, 2023. The drawing Tuesday night is the fifth-largest ever. (The Associated Press/Gene J. Puskar)

Story at a glance

  • A string of record-breaking lottery jackpots have made headlines in recent years.

  • For Mega Millions players, the bigger prizes are due in part to changes implemented in 2017.

  • Rising ticket prices and interest rates also play a role in the massive drawings.

The latest Mega Millions jackpot has soared to more than $1.1 billion with another drawing scheduled to take place tonight. 

The sum marks the third-largest Mega Millions prize yet, the fifth largest lottery prize in U.S. history, and follows a trend of record-breaking jackpots in recent years

This string of high grand prize sums can be traced back to changes made by Mega Millions in 2017. 

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In October of that year, the company announced changes that lowered the odds of winning the jackpot from 1 in 258.9 million to 1 in 302.6 million. 

Prior to 2017, the first five numbers of the Mega Millions were selected from 1 through 75, and the Mega Ball at 1 through 15. Following the change, players select their first five numbers on the ticket from 1 through 70, and the Mega Ball at 1 through 25. 

Along with adding more number combinations to grow jackpot sizes, the organization also increased ticket prices.

Similar changes were made to the Powerball lottery in 2015, when the game added more number combinations. Both changes did make it easier for smaller prizes to be won, however.

In theory, less common odds of winning the jackpot would rack up week-over-week ticket revenue, resulting in a larger jackpot down the line, which would in turn entice more players. 

The move appeared to be successful as nine of the 10 largest prizes in the United States have been won since 2017.

These longer odds of winning will likely lead to consistently greater jackpots over time.

In addition to changes in individual games, the Multi-State Lottery Association has also directed more ticket sale revenue towards the jackpot as opposed to smaller prizes, resulting in larger grand prizes across lotteries, not just the Mega Millions. 

Rising interest rates can also play a role, as lotteries advertise the jackpot total based on winners opting to receive the sum in annuity payments over 30 years.

“The annuity factor is made up of interest rates for securities purchased to fund prize payments. The higher the interest rates, the higher the advertised Grand Prize,” Powerball’s website reads. 

Currently, five states do not sell Powerball or Mega Millions tickets, while any expansion to these regions could also lead to higher jackpot totals, thanks to increased ticket sales.

“As the jackpot grows, we encourage our players to keep within their entertainment budget and enjoy this jackpot run right along with us,” said Ohio Lottery Director Pat McDonald, Lead Director of the Mega Millions Consortium, in a release

Tonight’s Mega Millions drawing will be at 11 p.m. ET. 

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