The Mega Millions jackpot swelled to $1.28 billion this week, making it the second largest lottery jackpot since it began in 1996.
At 11 p.m. ET on Friday, millions of people who have purchased a $2 ticket at their local store or group them with family, friends or co-workers will find out if they won. Or maybe no one will win the jackpot, which has happened in the previous twenty-nine drawings.
The odds of winning are long, one in 303 million. So it probably won’t be you (sorry).
But if we’re wrong, and luck, fate, or prayer makes you a winner, it’s safe to say that you’ll face major life decisions: is it better to take a lump sum or an annuity? Can I remain anonymous? Do I need a lawyer? What do I do with all this money?
Who can buy a ticket?
The jackpot has ballooned because no one has won any of the raffles, which take place every Tuesday and Friday, since winning a ticket on April 15 in Tennessee. On July 26, none of the five numbers matched the Mega Ball. That brings us to this moment of $1.28 billion.
Forty-five states, plus Washington, DC and the Virgin Islands, participate in the Mega Millions lottery. Nevada, Utah, Alabama, Alaska, and Hawaii don’t, but residents of those states can still buy tickets elsewhere and then travel to collect their prize. Tickets can be purchased in person at stores and gas stations. Some people only buy one. Others buy in groups. You can even buy them online in some states, but you may experience a backlog if you wait until the last minute.
Executives at Raising Cane’s, a chicken wings restaurant with locations across the United States, bought one ticket for each of their 50,000 employees for the $830 million it pulled on Tuesday. The process of printing tickets from a gas station took eight hours, but the company remained unchecked, and will try again on Friday.
“We’re doubling our number,” said AJ Kumaran, the company’s co-CEO, in an interview with FOX’s LiveNOW on Thursday. “What’s another two dollars per person?”
What happened in the previous big drawings?
Nine people came close to winning the Mega Millions jackpot on Tuesday, matching the first five balls drawn from numbers 1 to 70. The huge Golden Ball eluded them.
The last time the Mega Millions jackpot crossed the $1 billion threshold was on January 22, 2021, when the winning ticket sold out in Michigan, bringing in $1.050 billion.
The Friday raffle amount is the second largest in this lottery, but the competing multi-state Powerball lottery holds a world record January 2016 jackpot of $1.586 billion shared by winners in California, Florida and Tennessee.
The jackpot in Mega Millions history so far has reached $1.537 billion, which went to a single ticket purchased in South Carolina on October 23, 2018. The winner is still unknown.
Can the winner remain unknown?
Each state that participates in Mega Millions oversees the lottery operations within its jurisdiction, including sales, retailers, taxes owed and other financial liabilities. Laws, including whether winners’ names must be announced, vary between states.
Mary Kilbane of the Ohio Lottery said that in her state this includes whether the winner owes child support. “Internally, we are checking who this person is,” she said. “With all our winners.”
Ohio is one of at least seven states that allow winners, who may be wary of fraud or of becoming targets of crime, to conceal their identities. Other states include Delaware, Maryland, Kansas, North Dakota, and South Carolina. She said states differ in terms that allow winners to remain anonymous, or whether they can raise money in the name of a fund.
In Texas, the winner of $1 million or more can remain unknown. In Arizona, winners of $100,000 or more can choose to remain anonymous, but their city and county of residence is not secret. In California, the winners’ names are part of the public record. Some states, such as Michigan, do not allow multi-state lotteries like Mega Millions or Powerball to be trusted.
Not all lottery winners are required to appear at a press conference grinning, carrying a huge fake check. Under the Open Records Act, the Wisconsin Lottery issues the name and city of the winner upon request. Any other information, including news media interviews, is up to the winner.
What should you do with the money?
You just won the second biggest jackpot in Mega Millions history. What now?
You don’t need our advice on yachts, private islands and luxury cars, but experts say the winner should get help from a reputable attorney, financial advisor or accountant. Do your research first.
Tax advice is key. Friday’s winner can take home $747.2 million in one go or choose to take $1.28 billion in annual installments over 30 years. The federal government will take 24 percent of the higher amount, and you may also owe state taxes. Either option will get you into the higher federal income tax bracket, currently 37 percent and set to go up in the future, Kiplinger points out in this guide for lottery dreamers.
Before hiring a credit or other financial advisor, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau suggests checking the advisors’ backgrounds by asking for references, checking the status of their licenses, and finding information about their professional history. These resources are on the Internet.
The Federal Trade Commission advises consumers to find an attorney who specializes in an area relevant to their needs, which may include taxes, trusts or real estate in the case of lottery winners, and to get recommendations from family, friends, co-workers, or local groups. It is advisable to check with state and local bar associations before hiring a lawyer.
A cautionary tale: In 2019, South Carolina’s record jackpot winner held a man named Jason Kurland, who marketed himself as a “lottery lawyer.” Prosecutors said that a New York jury convicted him on Tuesday of defrauding lottery winners that caused losses of more than $100 million.
You should also prepare for the possibility that long-lost relatives and roommates may suddenly knock on your door or slip into your social media mentions.
The Virginia Lottery appeared to suggest the same Friday on its Facebook page, where she shared a message from a man who declared, “Before I win 1 billion at Mega Millions, I already know all of my cousins.”
“Helpful words to share with all your friends today,” the state lottery said.