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Mega Millions prize on Tuesday could set U.S. lottery record

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[December 17, 2013]  By Barbara Goldberg

(Reuters)  A last-minute ticket buying frenzy could make Tuesday's Mega Millions jackpot the biggest U.S. lottery prize in history, and odds are mounting for a winner just a week before Christmas, a game official said.

The prize swelled to $586 million on Monday, with another spike in sales expected Tuesday before the 11 p.m. EST drawing, said Paula Otto, Virginia's lottery director, who heads the multi-state Mega Millions game.

If the winner chooses to take the lump sum cash option, instead of payments over 30 years, the jackpot would be $316 million, according to MegaMillions.com.

As much as 70 percent of tickets are typically bought the day of the drawing, she said.

Ticket buying reached a fever pitch over the weekend, with 20 percent more chances sold than expected, Otto said.

The spending tsunami pushed the prize closer to the record U.S. jackpot of $656 million, won March 2012 in a Mega Millions drawing. The second largest lottery jackpot was $590.5 million, won May 2013 in a Powerball game.


"If it doesn't surpass the record, we'll be close. It's growing a little faster than we thought," Otto said on Monday.

The more tickets sold, the better chance someone will match one of the 259 million possible number combinations that could land a jackpot. By Tuesday's drawing, players will have bought enough tickets to cover 65 percent to 75 percent of the possible number combinations to strike it rich, Otto said.

"You don't know you have a winner unless it's 100 percent covered, though," she said.

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If no one picks the exact combination of numbers that appear on six randomly selected lottery balls, the prize will keep growing until the next drawing on Friday.

"We've never had a jackpot this high the week before Christmas," said Otto, who kept mum on whether she is hoping for the drama that a Christmas Eve drawing could bring.

"You like to see winners and you like to see big jackpots. I leave it in the hands of the bouncing balls," Otto said.

(Editing by Scott Malone and Steve Orlofsky)

[ 2013 Thomson Reuters. All rights reserved.]

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