Why Do Lottery Players Think They Can Defy Odds?

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It’s the ultimate fantasy: Walk into a store, plunk down a dollar and with nothing but extraordinary luck – you win a giant lottery.

The odds of that happening are astronomical. But tell that to the optimists and dreamers who lined up at gas stations, mini-marts and drug stores Monday for the last-minute Mega Millions ticket-buying frenzy. The $586 million prize – fourth-largest in U.S. history – could grow by Tuesday night’s drawing.

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Experts say what drives people to play is the same thing that drives people to gamble: the fantasy of quickly improving your life amid financial anxieties and uncertainty. The huge Mega Millions prize stems from a major game revamp in October that dramatically reduced the odds of winning.

The Mega Millions jackpot has been boosted to $586 million. The hike pushes the prize for Tuesday’s drawing closer to the $656 million U.S. record set last year. Should nobody win this week, officials say the jackpot could approach the once-unheard of $1 billion mark.

Paula Otto, executive director of the Virginia Lottery and Mega Millions’ lead director, says ticket sales are ahead of projections. She says the jackpot may be increased one more time on Tuesday morning in advance of the evening drawing.

She says if no winner is selected Tuesday and Friday, the jackpot could surpass $1 billion for the Christmas Eve drawing. Between 65 and 70 percent of the roughly 259 million possible number combinations will likely be in play when the numbers are drawn Tuesday.

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