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Hot Ticket Sales Push Mega Millions Jackpot Near All-Time Record

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A customer buys Mega Millions lottery tickets. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

A customer buys Mega Millions lottery tickets. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

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(CBS SF) – Have you ever had identical quadruplets? Your odds of doing that are 15 times better than winning tonight’s mega millions jackpot with a single ticket. Still, the tickets are selling quickly and raising the jackpot to a near-record.

Lottery officials now estimate the value of Tuesday night’s draw at $636 million, just below the all time record jackpot of $656 million split by three winners in March of 2012. The estimated cash option for a winner tonight would be $341 million.

The new huge prize stems from a major game revamp in October that dramatically reduced the odds of winning.

Between 65 and 70 percent of roughly 259 million possible number combinations will be in play when the numbers are drawn, says Paula Otto, executive director of the Virginia Lottery and Mega Millions’ lead director. 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.

The incredibly remote odds don’t really sink in for people, says George Loewenstein, a professor of economics and psychology at Carnegie Mellon University who has researched the motives underlying lottery ticket purchases.

“People don’t really understand probabilities at all,” he says. “Once you have a bunch of zeroes, it doesn’t matter how many you have — one in 10,000, one in a million or one in a billion. … People do understand the meaning of the word ‘largest.’ They overact to one dimension and underreact to the other.”

They also cling to a more romantic notion: Amazing things happen to others, so why not for me?

Even those who do win prizes, particularly the smaller ones, often fail to claim them. In fact, the California Lottery regularly provides information on which prizes are outstanding. As of October, an $11 million ticket had not been claimed.

The following are the previous top three jackpots in any game, along with the states where the tickets were purchased:

1. $656.0 million, Mega Millions, March 30, 2012 (3 tickets from Kansas, Illinois and Maryland)

2. $590.5 million, Powerball, May 18, 2013 (1 ticket from Florida)

3. $587.5 million, Powerball, Nov. 28, 2012 (2 tickets from Arizona and Missouri)

If nobody pulls all of the lucky numbers Tuesday or the next draw on Friday, the jackpot could reach near $1 billion by Christmas eve.

(TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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