(MCT) — Jan Lyons was waiting to buy a $1 Mega Millions lottery ticket Thursday when she decided to up her odds and purchase two.
"Because the jackpot is so high," said the 75-year-old retiree from south suburban Markham.
Because no one has won the jackpot in more than two months, the top prize for today's drawing has grown to $400 million, the second-largest in Mega Millions history, trailing a $656 million jackpot in March 2012. It's also the fifth-largest in U.S. history.
While there was no winner in Tuesday's $344 million drawing, five tickets that matched the first five numbers to each win $1,000,000 were bought in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey and two in Ohio.
A winner with a ticket matching all six numbers would have the choice of a full jackpot in 30 annual payments or a cash option of about $216 million, before taxes.
The drawing is at 10 p.m. Chicago time.Lyons knows it's a long shot, with the odds of winning the jackpot at about one in 259 million. She says she doesn't play all the time but tends to be lured by the fervor and hype of the biggest pots.
"Somebody's got to win it," she said, laughing. "It might as well be me. If I don't play, I can't win."
Daniel Levine, a professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Arlington, said people often make decisions in terms of what's possible rather than what's probable.
"They're drawn to the fact that there is a chance that they'll win, and they're not thinking about the numbers," he said. "Our decisions don't always fall into a rational model."
Lottery players often are attracted to the huge jackpots, despite the minuscule odds, said Romel Mostafa, assistant professor at the Ivey School of Business at Western University in Ontario, Canada.
About five years ago, he and colleagues at Carnegie Mellon University studied lottery ticket purchases of low-income subjects and found they tended to buy more tickets for $1, one at a time. They were less likely to buy more tickets all at once because it was perceived as a greater financial setback.
"When they're making these decisions one at a time, they're thinking this is peanuts," he said. "Whereas when they're making the decision all at once, it seems like a bigger hit."
Mostafa also said people in the study tended to buy lottery tickets when they believed their income was below a socially acceptable standard. Subjects also were more inclined to buy tickets when they were primed to think about social inequalities.
"People start thinking the lottery can be fair, in that it really doesn't pick winners or losers based on education, race or occupation," he said.
Several customers at a Speedway gas station in Tinley Park were buying tickets Thursday.
"We are busy, crazy all day here," said co-manager Sirivanh Maneewan. "For $400 million, more people are buying."
One man said he happened to have three dollar bills in his pocket, so he bought three tickets.
Ron Scherer, 42, a roofer from Merrionette Park, had a simple explanation for the ticket in his hand.
"I'm just trying to make money," he said.
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