It’s the ultimate fantasy: Walk into a store, plunk down a dollar, and with nothing but luck — really extraordinary luck — you win a giant lottery. Suddenly, you’re rich as a sultan with enough money to buy an NBA team or your own island.
The odds of that happening, of course, are astronomical. But tell that to the optimists and dreamers across the country who lined up at gas stations, mini-marts and drug stores Monday for the last-minute buying frenzy in the Mega Millions jackpot. The $586 million prize — the fourth-largest in U.S. history — could grow by Tuesday night’s drawing.
So what drives people to play, and what makes them think their $1 investment— among the many, many millions — will bring staggering wealth?
“It’s the same question as to why do people gamble,” said Stephen Goldbart, author of “Affluence Intelligence” and co-director of the Money, Meaning & Choices Institute in California. “It’s a desire to improve your life in a way that’s driven by fantasy. ... The bigger the fantasy, the tastier it gets.”
The Mega Millions jackpot soared to $586 million on Monday, still short of the $656 million U.S. record set in a March 2012 drawing. The new huge prize stems from a major game revamp in October that dramatically reduced the odds of winning. If no one wins Tuesday night and the jackpot rolls over past the next drawing scheduled Friday, it will reach $1 billion, according to Paula Otto, executive director of the Virginia Lottery and Mega Millions’ lead director.
Between 65 and 70 percent of roughly 259 million possible number combinations will be in play when the numbers are drawn, Otto says. For the ticket-buying optimists, that’s no deterrent.
“Even though the odds are against you, it’s just the excitement of, ‘Hey, I might wake up one day and be a millionaire,’” says Chris Scales, a 31-year-old hot dog vendor in downtown Nashville, Tenn., who brings in about $35,000 a year “if I really hustle.” He usually reserves his lottery playing for jackpots of at least $40 million.