Personal Finance

Mega Millions jackpot hits $1 billion — but it's much tougher to actually win

Key Points
  • The $1 billion Mega Millions jackpot marks the largest prize in the game's history.
  • Some states allow winners to remain anonymous, others do not and still others allow you claim your windfall via a trust if you plan ahead.
  • Even if you can shield your identity from the public, it's still best to share your news with as few people as possible.
  • Between it and Powerball's top prize of $470 million, a combined $1.47 billion is waiting for winners this weekend.
Lottery fever in full swing

The Mega Millions jackpot has been revised upward to a whopping $1 billion — at least partly due to year-old changes to the game that have resulted in worse odds and less frequent payouts.

For Mega Millions, your chance of winning is 1 in 302.6 million. Prior to last October, it was 1 in 258.9 million. For Powerball, it's 1 in 292 million. The chance of winning both is at least 1 in 88 quadrillion (that's 88 followed by 15 zeros).

Mega Millions has existed in some form since 1996. Lottery officials who run the game tweaked the rules and odds in October 2017 to make jackpots pay out less frequently, spurring their monster growth, according to published reports. Since that change, three of the six largest Mega Millions jackpots have been paid out.

If you're among those daydreaming about beating the odds, you should consider how you'd keep your sudden windfall under wraps. While a winner's instinct might be to shout from the rooftops, experts say that one of the best ways to protect your newfound wealth is to avoid letting too many people know about it.

Unfortunately, that isn't always easy. While some states allow winners to remain anonymous, others do not. And in some states, as long as you plan ahead, you can create a trust or other legal entity to receive your winnings as a way to avoid your name being attached to the money. This makes it important to know your options before doing much of anything.

State laws against anonymity can help maintain the transparency of lottery wins. For the winner, however, coming forward can be stressful.

A sign displays that the Mega Millions Lottery prize is estimated 970 million before the drawing in New York, United States on October 18, 2018. $970 million, becoming the largest jackpot in Mega Millions History. 
Atilgan Ozdil | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

"Not only do they have to deal with the stress of a media event, and answering questions from a room full of cameras and reporters, but they're also concerned about their safety and the safety of their family," said Jason Kurland, a partner at Rivkin Radler, a law firm in Uniondale, New York.

The $1 billion haul marks the largest jackpot in Mega Millions history. Between it and Powerball's top prize of $470 million, nearly $1.5 billion is waiting for winners this week. The next drawings are Friday night for Mega Millions and Saturday night for Powerball.

Top 10 lottery jackpots

RankAmountDate wonGameWinner locations
1$1.586 billionJan. 13, 2016PowerballCA, FL, TN
2$1.54 billionOct. 23, 2018Mega Millions SC
3$758.7 million Aug. 23, 2017 Powerball MA
4$656 million Mar. 30, 2012 Mega Millions KS, IL, MD
5$648 million Dec. 17, 2013 Mega Millions CA, GA
6$620 million???Powerball???
7$590.5 million 18-May-13Powerball FL
8$587.5 million Nov. 28, 2012 Powerball AZ, MO
9$564.1 million Feb. 11, 2015 Powerball NC, PR, TX
10$559.7 million Jan. 6, 2018 Powerball NH

Despite the astronomical odds against winning either game, at some point there will be jackpot winners.

"Once they get through the overwhelming process of winning, they have so many new opportunities in life that most people can only dream of," Kurland said.

If you happen to beat those odds, here are tips for trying to maintain a sense of privacy.

Get off the Internet

If the state where you purchased the ticket requires that your identity be publicly released, shut down your social media accounts in advance of claiming your win, Kurland said.

"The media will try to find as many pictures of a winner as possible, and social media is the first place to look," Kurland said. "You also want to make sure there's as little personal information out there like your phone number or address."

While any determined snooper or scammer could likely track you down, there's no reason to make it easy for them. Also, if you have a landline phone, consider making the number unlisted before you head to lottery headquarters.

This is what you do if you win the lottery

Contain yourself

Even if you can claim your prize anonymously, it's still best to avoid sharing your exciting news with too many people.

"Obviously it may be impossible to keep this from immediate family, but news like this travels quickly," Kurland said. "Try to keep the circle of people who know as small as possible."

Past prize winners have discovered the hard way that long-lost friends and relatives can come out of the woodwork looking for loans or handouts.

Plan an escape

If you have to claim your win publicly, consider skipping town immediately after claiming the prize.

"Just being out of town for a few days can help," Kurland said. "In this 24-hour news cycle, the interest in a winner will hopefully disappear after a few days.

"If you can avoid being around for a week, you might be able to escape the initial exposure."

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