Friday, November 27, 2015

Mega Millions changes jackpots, prizes, odds


This fall, a makeover for Mega Millions will mean bigger jackpots that are much harder to win.

Also, the runner-up prizes will be greatly sweetened, with the minimum rising to $1 million (same as Powerball) and the max up to $5 million ($3 million more than Powerball).

The bad news for players -- except the eventual winners -- is that, when the revamping starts  Oct. 22, the odds of winning with a single ticket (yes, still $1) will zoom from about 1 in 175.7 million to 1 in 258.9 million, an increase of nearly 50 percent.

Much worse than Powerball, you say? True, per ticket the current odds are roughly the same. But per dollar Mega Millions is and will still be the better deal, since you could buy two tickets for the price of one $2 Powerball ticket.

The idea, of course, is to have even bigger Mega Millions jackpots. The longer the odds, the more tickets will miss, allowing the jackpot to keep building.

That's quite an ambition for a game that set the world record last year with a $656 million jackpot.

On the other hand, jackpots will start higher ($15 million instead of $12 million) and grow faster (a minimum of $5 million for each rollover), a virtual guarantee of accelerated sales.

So, despite the longer odds, the extra tickets in play could mean Mega Millions will produce just as many jackpot wins as before (13 times in each of the last three years).

A new prize structure will improve the odds of winning something to 1 in about 15, way up from 1 in 40, partly because the Mega Ball will be easier to hit. You'll have to pick a number from 1 to 15, instead of 1 to 46.

The $5 million possibility for second prize comes courtesy of two changes: A guaranteed $1 million for matching five number without the Mega Ball, and a boost to the $1 Megaplier option  so that prizes can be multiplied by five times, up from the current four. To win $5 million, a player will have to buy both kinds of tickets, match five numbers, and have the Mega Million come up five.

Know however that the odds of winning a second prize in Mega Millions will be much worse. You'll have to pick five numbers between 1 and 75 instead of 1 in 56.

Players will be faced with an interesting choices vs. Powerball: Spend $2 on regular tickets and have better odds of winning the jackpot? Spend $1 on a regular ticket and $1 on the Megaplier and have shots at both the jackpot and $5 million? Or spend $3 on two regular tickets and one Megaplier and sort of have the best of both worlds?

Or instead of getting super-greedy, why not go for a game that can still pay millions with less infinitesmal odds, like Pennsylvania's Match 6 or New Jersey's Pick 6?

Contact staff writer Peter Mucha at 215-854-4342 or


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