Ready to join billionaire’s club? Mega Millions jackpot his $1 billion (with a B); drawing tonight

Published 2:10 pm Friday, January 22, 2021

The jackpot for the Mega Millions lottery game has grown to $1 billion ahead of Friday night’s drawing after more than four months without a winner thanks to bad luck, poor odds and reduced play partially blamed on the coronavirus pandemic.

It’s only the third time a lottery jackpot has grown so large, but much has changed since the last time such a big prize was up for grabs in 2018. The odds of winning a jackpot remain the same — incredibly small — but for a variety of reasons fewer people are playing Mega Millions or Powerball, the two lottery games offered in most of the country.

And even as the huge Mega Millions prize and a $731.1 million Powerball jackpot won Wednesday by a single ticket sold in Maryland have juiced sales for the games, Maryland lottery director Gordon Medenica noted: “We’re not out of the woods yet.”

Medenica acknowledged sales were dramatically lower before the pandemic, and they tanked even further in the spring and summer.

After a peak in October 2018, Medenica said sales of the big lottery games dropped about 50%, prompting talk among lottery officials about jackpot fatigue. Sales of Mega Millions and Powerball continued to decline after the virus hit along with other lottery games, but while scratch tickets and other instant games rebounded strongly later in the year, national game sales remained moribund.

In response to falling sales, officials updated the national games to reduce starting jackpots from $40 million to $20 million and changed rules about guaranteed minimum increases between drawings. The moves made fiscal sense but they caused jackpots to grow more slowly, further tamping down sales, as demonstrated by the record 37 draws without a winner it took to reach the current Mega Millions jackpot that’s still far less than the all-time highs.