The American dream ticket: Who'll strike it rich in the half-billion lottery?

Unprecedented $540m jackpot prompts hysteria across a nation feeling the pinch

New York

Lottery officials said that tickets for the Mega Millions draw due late last night were selling in New York City alone at the rate of about one million an hour as punters with dollars to spare (and many without) dreamed that perhaps they would be the ones to pick the lucky numbers and win the biggest jackpot in world history.

It may be dawn this morning before America learns who has landed the record $540m (£337m) prize. It is possible even that no one will have picked the lucky combination of numbers and the jackpot will continue to grow before the next draw.

Alternatively, there may be multiple winners which, of course, will mean a sharing of the booty and the super-yacht, private-island fantasies may have to be pared back a little.

The lure of the half-a-billion-and-more bounty was enough to have dreamers queuing at tobacconists and newspaper vendors sometimes around several blocks while office workers eagerly joined pools – a dicey commitment according to lawyers experienced in untangling the bad-tempered knots that occur when an office pool wins and the arguments over who actually participated in it ensue, as they nearly always do.

If the million-an-hour rate in New York was to hold up until the 11pm drawing, it would mean that every single soul in the city would have at least two tickets to their name.

The same frenzy was seen in all of the other 42 states that offer the Mega Millions game as well as Washington DC and the US Virgin Islands.

If the winner today goes for the lump-sum option rather than accepting phased payments over 26 years, they will actually receive $390 million. After tax their takings would be about $293 million.

As is usually the case with gambling, hope and optimism triumphs over common sense. Statisticians noted that the odds of winning last night were roughly 1 in 176 million. You were 8,000 times more likely to be murdered than to be named the winner.

Devilishly, of course, the more tickets that a person bought, the more their chances grew.

"You are about 50 times as likely to get struck by lightning as to win the lottery, based on the 90 people a year getting struck by lightning," noted Mike Catalano of the mathematics department at Dakota Wesleyan University. "If you buy 50 tickets, you've equalised your chances of winning the jackpot with getting struck by lightning."

For their part, the organisers of Mega Millions were not encouraging people to break open their piggy banks to buy as many tickets as possible.

"When people ask me, I just tell them that the odds of a lottery game make it a game of fate," said Chuck Strutt, executive director of the Urbandale, Iowa-based Multi-State Lottery Association. "Just buy a ticket, sit back and see if fate points a finger at you for that day."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
Floyd Mayweather will relinquish his five world titles after beating Manny Pacquiao
Arts and Entertainment
tvGame of Thrones season 5 ep 4, review - WARNING: contains major spoiliers!
Tottenham legend Jimmy Greaves has defended fans use of the word 'Yid'
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Life and Style
Google celebrates Bartolomeo Cristofori's 360th birthday
techGoogle Doodle to the rescue
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living