The odds are much better that someone will begin their weekend a winner. Aaron Abrams, a mathematician at Emory University, said he calculated that there was only a 6 percent chance that no one would hold the winning numbers.
"Every time the jackpot gets higher, more and more people buy tickets, which makes it more and more likely that someone will win," Abrams said. "So the chance that it rolls over this many times in a row is very small. It's quite a rare event."
The estimated jackpot dwarfs the previous $390 million record, which was split in 2007 by two winners who bought tickets in Georgia and New Jersey.
The rarity of Friday's jackpot was fueling the fervor. Lines formed at grocery stores, gas stations, liquor stops and other venues across the country.
In Arizona, a café worker reported selling $2,600 worth of tickets to one buyer. In Indiana, hundreds lined up for a giveaway of free tickets. Hundreds from Utah and Las Vegas streamed in to neighboring California or Arizona to buy tickets because their states don't participate.
Accountant Ray Lousteau, who bought 55 Mega Millions tickets Friday in New Orleans, knows buying that many tickets doesn't mathematically increase his odds, and that his $55 could have gone elsewhere. He spent it anyway.
"Mathematically, it doesn't make a difference, and intellectually we know that. But for some reason buying more tickets makes you feel more lucky," Lousteau said. "Even people who know better are apt to feel that way."
In Chicago, Peter Muiznieks bought a ticket at a liquor store. He knows his chance of winning is a long shot, and that the money the country is spending on tickets could go elsewhere. He still couldn't help himself, and laughed as the apparent contradiction of his opinion and his actions.
"Lottery and games of chance are a stupidity tax and the more we all buy into this, the less rational we are as a society," he said.
Wiseman reported from Washington. Contributing to this report were Associated Press journalists Robert Ray, Anna Johnson, Chris Wills and David Scott in Chicago; Margery Beck in Omaha, Neb.; Stacey Plaisance in New Orleans, Oskar Garcia in Las Vegas, and Jack Gillum in Washington, D.C.
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