DES MOINES, Iowa >> Superstition didn’t deter players hoping that Friday the 13th would bring them good luck in the recently revamped Mega Millions game, as heavy sales prompted lottery officials to boost the jackpot from $400 million to $425 million.
Paula Otto, the Virginia Lottery’s executive director and Mega Millions’ lead director, said sales were 40 percent ahead of projections, prompting officials to boost the jackpot before the Friday night drawing.
"Won’t it be fun if we have a huge lottery winner on Friday the 13th?" she said. "I always say there are no unlucky numbers in the lottery. I work on the 13th floor of our building. I like 13."
The estimated $425 million jackpot is the second-largest Mega Millions jackpot ever, trailing a $656 million jackpot in March 2012, and it is the fifth-largest lottery jackpot in U.S. history. The current jackpot has rolled over 20 times, and a winner from Friday night’s drawing could have a cash option of $228 million before taxes.
Tom Leuangkhamsone doesn’t usually play Mega Millions, but he bought one ticket this morning at a convenience store in Atlanta.
"I feel lucky today," he said. "Friday the 13th, they say it’s a bad day but I don’t know. … If I win I would probably give most of it away."
In New York state, tickets were selling at a pace of $500,000 an hour Friday morning. The state’s lottery spokeswoman, Christy Calicchia, said sales are normally between $60,000 and $70,000 an hour.
Mike Cline, 46, bought a lone Mega Millions ticket at a Des Moines convenience store.
"She’s selling me the winner right now," he said to the store owner as he turned in a sheet with his family’s birthdays on them. It’s the numbers he uses all the time. Aside from his own personal ticket, he plays in a work pool that uses a combination of set numbers and the automated Easy Pick option.
"I actually think we have a better chance with the Easy Pick," he said. "But I don’t care how we win, as long as we win."
A major game revamp to Mega Millions in October — aimed at growing bigger jackpots in a shorter amount of time — decreased the odds of a person winning the top prize to about 1 in 259 million. It was previously about 1 in 176 million, nearly the same odds as winning the Powerball jackpot. Still, the cost for a chance at winning millions with Mega Millions is just $1.
That’s what made Sarah Andrews, 35, of Madrid, Iowa, purchase one Mega Millions ticket Friday morning. The infrequent player took the automated Easy Pick option.
"I feel that my odds are so low anyway, it doesn’t really matter," said the IT specialist. "I only buy a ticket to get a dollar’s worth of entertainment."
The winning ticket must match the six numbers drawn, and about 32 percent of the possible combinations of numbers have been sold.
Barbara Cooper bought two tickets today at a convenience store in downtown New Orleans. She immediately began to daydream.
"It would change my life, absolutely," she said. "We still have children in college, so that would help out immensely."
If no one wins tonight, the jackpot will increase to $550 million, Otto said.
"The good news is, sales are strong. We’re not in record territory yet but we probably will be this time next week if we’re still taking about this jackpot," she said.
Mega Millions is played alongside Powerball in 43 states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Associated Press writers Johnny Clark in Atlanta and Stacey Plaissance in New Orleans contributed to this report.