Mega Millions Lottery: How to Play and Be a Winner

Could You Be the Next Mega Millions Winner?

Photo of Mega Millions tickets.
Woman purchasing Mega Millions tickets. Kevork Djansezian/Staff/Getty Images

Mega Millions, like Powerball, is a multi-state lottery in the United States. Tickets for the Mega Millions Lottery can be purchased in all but six states, as well as Washington, DC and the Virgin Islands. Each Mega Millions Jackpot starts at $40 million and increases by $5 million for every drawing that does not produce a jackpot winner.

History of the Mega Millions Lottery

Mega Millions began in August of 1996 under the name, "The Big Game." Only six states participated at first, but the lottery grew in popularity over time, and nearly every US jurisdiction participates today.

The name has changed twice, to "The Big Game Mega Millions" in 2002 and to "Mega Millions," as it's known today, in 2005.

In October of 2017, Mega Millions changed its structure, making it harder to win the jackpot but easier to win a million-dollar prize. The changes should also result in larger jackpots, and the size of the starting jackpot is nearly trebling. A similar redesign was made five years earlier, in October of 2012.

The October 2017 Mega Million changes include raising ticket prices from $1 apiece to $2 apiece, dropping the number of white balls from 75 to 70, and having 25 numbers to choose among for the Mega Ball instead of 15. The starting jackpot increased from $15 million to $40 million. A "Just the Jackpot" option ticket was also added and some of the non-jackpot payouts were increased.

These changes put Mega Millions more in line with the Powerball lottery, which has been attracting attention recently for its huge jackpots.

Mega Millions broke the record for the United States' largest lottery jackpot when a $656 million prize was awarded on March 30, 2012. Since then, two Powerball jackpots have broken that record, with a $1,586.4 million prize awarded on January 13, 2016, and a $758.7 million jackpot awarded on August 23, 2017.

Mega Millions currently holds the records for the third- and fourth-largest U.S. jackpots.

More Info: Can Non-US Residents Play to Win the Mega Millions Lottery?

How Do You Play Mega Millions?

To play the Mega Millions lottery, you must pick five numbers between 1 and 70 and one additional number between 1 and 25. The additional number is known as the "Mega Ball." The first five numbers do not have to be in any particular order.

A basic Mega Millions ticket costs $2. Most states also offer a "Megaplier" option, where you pay $1 per ticket to multiply any prize you win (other than the jackpot) by two, three, four, or five. The value of the Megaplier is drawn at random at the same time that the winning numbers are generated.

You have the option to choose your lottery numbers, or to do a "quick pick" to let the computer randomly generate the numbers you will play.

As of October 28, 2017, some states offer a "Just the Jackpot" ticket. The Just the Jackpot ticket gives you two tickets for just $3, but those tickets are only eligible to win jackpots, none of the lower-tier prizes.

More Info: Want to boost your odds of becoming a lottery winner? Read Lottery-Winning Tips that Really Work.

How Do You Win the Mega Millions Lottery?

Mega Millions numbers are drawn from two drums, one containing 70 balls and one containing 25 balls.

The first five numbers are drawn from the first drum, and the Mega Ball is drawn from the second drum. A seventh number is then drawn, to determine the level of the Megaplier, from 2 through 5.

If your five numbers match the five drawn from the first drum in any order, and your Mega Ball matches the number drawn from the second drum, you've won the jackpot. You may also win a prize for matching a lesser number of balls, as outlined below:

Mega Millions Payouts:

  • 5 numbers plus the Mega Ball: The rolling jackpot.
  • 5 numbers without the Mega Ball: $1,000,000 (multiplied by the Megaplier value, if you purchased that option).
  • 4 numbers plus the Mega Ball: $5,000 (multiplied by the Megaplier value, if you purchased that option).
  • 4 numbers without the Mega Ball: $500 (multiplied by the Megaplier value, if you purchased that option).
  • 3 numbers plus the Mega Ball: $50 (multiplied by the Megaplier value, if you purchased that option).
  • 3 numbers without the Mega Ball: $5 (multiplied by the Megaplier value, if you purchased that option).
  • 2 numbers plus the Mega Ball: $5 (multiplied by the Megaplier value, if you purchased that option).
  • 1 number plus the Mega Ball: $2 (multiplied by the Megaplier value, if you purchased that option).
  • Only the Mega Ball: $1 (multiplied by the Megaplier value, if you purchased that option).

Odds of Winning the Mega Millions Lottery:

  • 5 numbers plus the Mega Ball (Jackpot): Odds of 1 in 258,890,850.
  • 5 numbers without the Mega Ball: Odds of 1 in 18,492,204.
  • 4 numbers plus the Mega Ball: Odds of 1 in 739,688.
  • 4 numbers without the Mega Ball: Odds of 1 in 52,835.
  • 3 numbers plus the Mega Ball: Odds of 1 in 10,720.
  • 3 numbers without the Mega Ball: Odds of 1 in 766.
  • 2 numbers plus the Mega Ball: Odds of 1 in 473.
  • 1 number plus the Mega Ball: Odds of 1 in 56.
  • Only the Mega Ball: Odds of 1 in 21.
  • Overall odds of winning any prize: 1 in 14.7.

These odds are from March 19, 2014. To see whether the odds have changed since then, visit the Mega Millions website.

How Can You Find Out if You Won the Mega Millions Jackpot?

Mega Millions winners are drawn on Tuesdays and Fridays at 11:00 pm. You can buy tickets up to 15 minutes before that time. Winning numbers are announced on television, in newspapers, and in the stores where you can buy tickets, or simply visit the Mega Millions website to view the latest winning numbers at any time.

If you'd like to see drawings at any time, check out the Mega Millions YouTube page.

Many of the state lottery websites also have handy smartphone apps or RSS feeds that can keep you abreast of the winning numbers.

More Info: If you're interested in state-specific lottery results, see this article: Winning Lottery Numbers by State .

Do You Have to Go Public If You're a Mega Millions Winner?

In all but five states, you have to reveal your identity publicly if you are a Mega Millions winner. The states that allow you to collect your winnings anonymously are Maryland, Ohio, Kansas, Delaware, and North Dakota.

If You Win the Mega Millions Jackpot, How Will You Get Your Prize?

If you win the jackpot, have the choice of two payout options: a lump sum payout or an annuity. The annuity will be paid out over 29 years, receiving 5% more each year than the year before. If the winner passes away before the annuity has been paid out, his or her heirs will continue to receive the payments.

If the winner takes the lump-sum payout, he or she will receive the entire jackpot at once, and will also be responsible for taxes on the entire amount at once. People who take the annuity option pay taxes on their winnings each year.

Which States Do Not Participate in the Mega Millions Lottery?

The Mega Millions Lottery is not offered in Alabama, Alaska, Mississippi, Hawaii, Nevada, or Utah.

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