How Mega Millions created monstrous jackpots — but made them harder to win

The chances of winning the Mega Millions have always been really, really bad. Throw in last year’s changes to the Mega Millions and — forget about it.

(Let’s not even get into the likelihood of winning both the Mega Millions and Powerball this week. The chances of that happening are pretty close to nonexistent.)

Since nobody won Friday’s Mega Millions drawing for a $1 billion jackpot, the estimated prize Tuesday night will be a record $1.6 billion. That’s the largest jackpot in US history. But lottery prizes weren’t always this ginormous.

The payouts are not as often

Mega Millions officials changed a few things in October last year and made jackpot payouts less frequent. But when they do, the amount is mind-blowing — as we can see in recent Mega Millions jackpots.

This year, there have been only four jackpots — with payouts of between $142 million and $543 million. Three of those have been among the 10 largest in the game’s history.

Since 2002, Mega Millions jackpots paid millions in prizes around eight times a year, sometimes even more than a dozen times. Some of those prizes have been as low as $12 million.

The price of the ticket has doubled

The spike in the Mega Millions ticket price, from $1 to to $2, brought a major change to the starting amount. Every time there’s a winner, the jackpot resets to $40 million instead of $15 million.

And the number of balls and Mega Balls in the game changed significantly, increasing the player’s chances of winning secondary prizes even while it decreased those of hitting the jackpot.

The odds are much higher

With the ball changes, the odds of winning the jackpot went from 1 in roughly 258 million to 1 in about 302 million.

Lottery officials said the move was a pure answer to its players’ calls.

“We have a demand for innovation to keep fresh, entertaining lottery games and to deliver the attention-grabbing jackpots,” said former Mega Millions President Debbie D. Alford at the time. “We’re excited to deliver the opportunity to create more millionaires and also provide more opportunities to raise additional revenues for the respected causes lotteries benefit.”