Little plastic Ping-Pong balls and printed numbers. Doesn't sound like much, does it?
If you're lucky, live in or near 12 U.S. states and are willing to shell out a buck in the next few hours, six Ping-Pong balls could be your ticket to a life of unimaginable wealth.
Tonight's prize drawing in the multistate Mega Millions lottery is going to grab lots of attention because of the size of the payout -- $370 million. That's the largest single payout in North American history.
And all you have to do is pick six numbers.
Lottery officials told ABC News that the $370 million jackpot could move even higher before the balls are drawn -- in "Good Morning America's" Times Square Studios home at 11 p.m. ET. Officials ratcheted up the total by $15 million this afternoon because sales are off the hook -- more than 1 million tickets were sold in New York state in an hour this morning.
"I have to get some money, baby!" said Margarita Paragitan while buying tickets on Manhattan's Upper West Side. "I want to go to Hawaii, and I want to take care of my brothers and sisters. They live in Daytona and they have no money. I want to take care of my family first."
What's causing the sales frenzy? When lottery prize money gets to these levels, it's not just starry-eyed dreamers who line up to get tickets; hard-nosed pragmatists and lottery neophytes get drawn in, too.
"I could use $370 million," said Jacqueline, a once-a-year player who didn't want to give her last name.
So we thought we'd take a minute to help you start your list of Things to Do With My $370 Million by looking at the numbers.
But before that -- the sweet dessert of this raffle-inspired dream -- we should eat our vegetables by looking at how much of your winnings will be winnowed away by the tax man, where all that ticket money is going and what your realistic chances are for a win.
What Are My Odds of Winning?
The multistate organization that runs the drawing says its math shows that about one in every 40 Mega Millions tickets purchased will win something.
Prizes range from a $2 gimme if you get the Mega Ball right (one in every 75 plays) up to the jackpot prize where the odds are, well, quite a bit longer (one in 176 million plays).
Many people think that they're less likely to win a prize when the jackpot gets big, but that isn't the case. Basic math proves that your odds of winning remain exactly the same no matter how many tickets are sold. There are about 176 million possible combinations that could be drawn whether one or 100 million tickets are sold.
Keep something in mind, though: Even if you do somehow beat the odds and match all five main numbers and pick the Mega Ball, you might not get $370 million. If more than one ticket has those numbers, you'll be sharing your new-found wealth with someone else. The Jackpot prize is equally divided amongst all the winners.
Oh, and if you buy your ticket in California, those smaller prizes are not guaranteed. That state runs the Mega Millions lottery as a "pari-mutuel" game, meaning the value of the second through ninth place prizes are determined by the number of tickets sold.
Where's All This Ticket Money Go?
That really depends on where you live.
On average, about half of the dollar you spend to buy a single Mega Millions ticket gets put back into winners' pockets.
About a third is put into the coffers of the state where you bought the ticket to pay for things like schools, public health, college scholarships or aid to municipalities. That's completely up to the state's lottery commission.
Just 15 cents of every dollar ticket goes to operating the game -- paying commissions to the retailer who sold the ticket, getting the machines and ticket stock into stores and administering the contest.
What Will the Tax Man Get?
No matter what you win in a lottery, Uncle Sam and all his little brothers are going to get their cut. Winnings from lotteries are taxed just like income.
The federal government will get around $130 million in taxes from tonight's winner, which brings the take down to around $240 million.
Not to be outdone, you'll probably have to swing a big check to the local and state authorities, too. The average state and local income tax burden for the United States is about 11 percent -- so lop off another $25 million or so for their share.
That leaves about $215 million for you to enjoy. It's certainly nothing to scoff at, but it is an astounding 42 percent less impressive than the advertised jackpot.
So What Could I Buy?
The number crunchers here in the ABC News Business Unit have taken a swipe at spending your millions. Here are some ideas you should feel free to use if you win big:
Gearing up for '08? Barack and roll! You and about 93,000 of your closest friends could attend an Obama fundraiser for about $2,300 a pop. Or, if you're a Republican, you could pack the next bash for John McCain or Rudy Giuliani.
You could buy the most expensive house on the market today (Donald Trump's $125 million Palm Beach mansion), a private jet like John Travolta's or Tom Cruise's ($10 million), and still have enough to donate the $80 million leftover to the Church of Scientology.
You could make a decent offer to buy Michael Schumacher's private island (reportedly worth $7 million) and still have $208 million left over, enough to send more than 5,000 college kids to Harvard for four years.
You could buy 330,000 pairs of Christian Loubiton shoes.
You could buy 107 Super Bowl ads for whatever product you want to push in early in 2008.
You could buy Picasso's "Boy with a Pipe" (sold at Sotheby's for $104 million), and still have $111 million left over, enough to buy an iPod nano for every person in San Francisco.
Like fast living, fast cars and leisurely golf games? You could buy a Louis Vuitton golf bag ($9,000), an Escalade golf cart ($16,000) and still buy yourself a different Mercedes Benz for every day of the year for over a decade (Mercedes cost $50,000).
You could pay the annual salaries for President Bush, Vice President Cheney, David Beckham and Derek Jeter and still have more than three-quarters of your winnings left.
You could send more than 890,000 couples on a date to sushi superspot Nobu.
Or, if you were feeling really generous, you could send 140,000 deserving families of four on a one-week Disney World vacation. A bit of disclosure here: The Walt Disney Co. is the corporate parent of ABCNEWS.com
Whatever is on your list, lottery officials point out that "The only way to win, is to play." If you're lucky enough to win and use one of the wishes on our list, let us know. We'd like to tag along.