Mega Millions recipe: longer odds, bigger pots and fewer winners

Your chances of winning the Mega Millions lottery drawing are worse than ever, thanks to more numbers from which to choose. Since the change, no one has won.

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Mega Millions

Your chances of winning the Mega Millions game are worse than ever, thanks to more numbers from which to choose. Since the change, no one has won. (Allen J. Schaben, Los Angeles Times / December 12, 2013)

There's at least $400 million on the line in Friday night's Mega Millions lottery drawing, which has produced the usual heavy breathing over the prospect of big money.

But Andre Evangelista's chances — and yours — of winning are worse than ever.

"It's completely unfair," Cypress resident Evangelista, a frequent lottery player, told me. "They're making it harder to win so the jackpots get bigger and more people play."

Personally, I think that regularly buying lottery tickets makes as much financial sense as hoping you'll trip over a bar of gold on your way to work.

I get, however, that it's fun to dream of overnight riches, and the lottery, despite its ridiculous odds, offers people a relatively affordable way to buy a little piece of hope.

What has Evangelista, 53, peeved is a recent decision to change the rules of the popular Mega Millions game, which is played in California and 42 other states.

Your odds of winning the jackpot used to be 1 in 176 million. As of Oct. 22, those odds changed to 1 in 259 million.

That's because you used to have to pick six numbers from 1 to 56. Now you have to pick them from 1 through 75.

The Mega numbers have decreased to 15 from 46, but your overall chances of winning still are substantially reduced.

John Garnett, a UCLA math professor, explained to me that the changes mean that "for every three winners under the old system, now there will be two."

Put another way, he said, if your chances of winning the jackpot used to suck, "now they suck even more."

By way of context, your odds of being murdered are just 1 in 18,989, according to the website Your odds of contracting West Nile Virus are 1 in 66,592. And your odds of that statistical favorite, getting hit by lightning, are about 1 in a million.

You thus have way better chances of all those things happening to you than you do of winning the Mega Millions lottery.

The last time anyone won the Mega Millions lottery was Oct. 1, when an anonymous Maryland man nailed a jackpot of $189 million. He opted for taking the money in a lump sum, which will leave him with $86 million after state and federal taxes are deducted.

After the odds changed three weeks later, there hasn't been a single jackpot winner. Not one.

Five tickets in Tuesday's drawing matched the first five numbers, scoring the holders a cool $1 million each. But nobody walked away with the $344 million jackpot by hitting all six numbers.

The huge pile of cash on the line Friday night is so far the game's second-largest pot ever and the fifth-largest in U.S. lottery history.

"The fact that no one has won the jackpot is all you need to know," Evangelista said. "They made it so nobody wins."

Well, someone will win, sooner or later. Someone always does. But the element of dumb luck is greater than ever before.

Mega Millions appears to be feeling some heat from the rival Powerball lottery, which routinely boasts jackpots in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Since 2010, both Powerball and Mega Millions have been offered nearly nationwide.

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