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Near-record Mega Millions jackpot spurs lottery fever

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Published:   |   Updated: December 17, 2013 at 12:47 PM

TAMPA — Dreams of riches are propelling a ticket-buying spree as Floridians snap up more than 3,000 tickets a minute for the Mega Million lottery.

The estimated jackpot on Monday was $586 million, but strong sales have pushed it to $636 million ahead of tonight's 11 p.m. drawing.

As drawing time approaches, players flock to retail outlets to buy tickets. Liz Gallien, a manager at Alpine Liquors on North Nebraska Avenue in Seminole Heights, said she expects the number of lottery ticket sales to be up considerably over a normal Tuesday.

“I'm having people who don't normally come in, coming in to buy them,” she said, “and some of our regular customers are buying them, too.”

The lottery jackpot record is $656 million.

The odds of hitting the jackpot are one in 259 million, evident by the dearth of jackpot winners in this round of Mega Millions, which has been growing steadily without winners since Oct. 1. That's 21 drawings without a new multimillionaire.

That might seem an unusually high number of drawings without a winner, but it isn't, really.

“That depends,” said Florida Lottery spokeswoman Amy Bisceglia. “Since they've changed the odds for Mega Millions, it's not unusual. Sometimes, it gets hit right away, sometimes not. All of our games are like that.”

As the Mega Millions jackpot grows, she said, so do lines in front of the lottery ticket machines.

“So far today, the average for hourly sales has been 102,000 tickets per hour,” she said at noon Monday. “This past hour, we've sold a total of 193,000 tickets. That adds up to 3,231 tickets sold per minute.”

That's just in Florida. Mega Millions tickets are sold in 43 other states and the District of Columbia and the Virgin Islands.

Though the jackpot has remained elusive to gamers since October, not everyone who buys a Mega Millions ticket loses out. The odds of winning something is one in 15.

More than 5 million tickets won prizes in last Tuesday's drawing, lottery officials said, including five tickets that matched the first five numbers. Those winners, two in Ohio and one each in Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Jersey, raked in $1 million on each ticket.

In Friday night's drawing, two quick pick tickets sold in Florida matched the first five numbers and each won $1 million. One ticket was sold in Miami, and the other in Fort Lauderdale.

Florida joined the Mega Millions game in May and since then, the game has generated $30 million in revenue for education.

Tickets cost $1 and give players a chance to pick six numbers from two separate fields of numbers. Five numbers are chosen from a field of 1-75, and the sixth number, from a field of 1-15.

If one ticket matches all six numbers for the $586 million jackpot, the winner will have the choice of receiving the full amount in 30 annual payments, or a cash option of approximately $316 million before taxes.

kmorelli@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7760

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