Mega changes loom for Mega Millions
Mega Millions is powering up to better compete with Powerball.
In the last year and a half, Powerball has had nine jackpots worth more than $200 million, while Mega Millions hasn't had a a single one.
And yet both are played in the same 43 states, including Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware, as well as Washington, D.C.
No wonder that, starting next Tuesday, Mega Millions will make some sweeping changes.
The good news for players:
-- Tickets will remain $1 each, compared to $2 for Powerball.
-- Runner-up prizes will be greatly sweetened, with the minimum rising from $250,000 to $1 million (same as Powerball) and the max up to $5 million ($3 million more than Powerball).
-- Jackpots will start higher ($15 million instead of $12 million) and grow faster (a minimum of $5 million for each rollover).
The bad news -- for everyone except for eventual jackpot winners and revenue recipients -- is that the odds of winning with a single ticket will plummet from 1 in 175.7 million (about the same as Powerball) to 1 in 258.9 million, a diminishing of nearly 50 percent.
Per dollar, that's still much better than Powerball, but per ticket it's much worse.
The idea, of course, is to have even bigger Mega Millions jackpots. The longer the odds, the more tickets will miss, allowing jackpots to keep building.
Apparently, the ambition is to regain the magic that led to Mega Millions setting a U.S. record jackpot in March 2012 with a $656 million annuity prize. Since then, Powerball, which made major changes in January 2012, has hogged the headlines with a handful of jackpots that grew to $338 million, $399 million, $448 million, $587.5 million and $590 million, while Mega Million's biggest was $198 million.
Now, both games should be regularly taking runs at records, Powerball fueled by $2 tickets, Mega Millions by longer odds.
But don't expect to see dramatic results from Mega Millions right away. Its jackpot for Friday's drawing is relatively run-of-the-mill $37 million, while Powerball is up to a hefty $186 million for Saturday's. Wait a few weeks, though, and Mega Millions might be in the driver's seat.
The $5 million possibility for second prize comes courtesy of two changes: A guaranteed $1 million for matching five numbers 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 Megaplier come up five.
Know 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.
As the odds get lousier, one wonder if the moves might backfire, prompting players to gravitate toward other games. Pennsylvania's Match 6 and New Jersey's Pick 6 can pay millions with better odds.
Of course, you'll still be more likely to get hit by lightning than win a major prize in any of these games.
Contact staff writer Peter Mucha at 215-854-4342 or firstname.lastname@example.org.