March 30, 2012 — -- The largest lottery jackpot in U.S. history leaped even higher to $640 million as throngs of hopefuls bought fistfuls of last minute tickets.
The cash lump sum payment is now worth $462 million, up from $389.8 million.
The drawing earlier today was just $540 million, surpassing the estimated $476 million jackpot and previous record of $390 million.
But it jumped by $100 million as long lines of ticket buyers jammed stores for their chance to join the country's one percent.
A now eye-popping 400 million tickets have been sold in just the last 48 hours for the drawing set to take place at 11 p.m. Friday at WSB-TV in Atlanta, Georgia -- one of the 42 states where Mega Millions is played.
"Friday night's Mega Millions drawing … provides an unprecedented opportunity for players to take a chance on a half-billion dollar dream for just the $1 price of a ticket," Gary Grief, lead director for the Mega Millions group said. "We have people coming out that have never bought a ticket before, because they see this number and they think, 'Gee, for just a dollar, I have a chance at a half a billion.' It's hard not to take a chance on that."
Hopefuls with lottery fever across the U.S. are strategizing and purchasing dozens - even thousands -- of tickets.
Washington Wizards player Chris Singleton – who is bringing in somewhere in the area of $1.5 million this season -- is one lottery player who is playing with more than one shot -- Singleton thinks he's a slam dunk to win, tweeting that he planned to spend $10,000 on tickets, the Washington Post reported.
In California, lottery officials put out a cheat sheet of which stores have sold the most winning tickets. Retailers receive 5.5 cents for each $1 ticket sold, 1 percent of every prize they pay at their store, and a cash bonus for selling top prizes ($50,000 for Powerball and Mega Millions jackpots).
California lottery stores where winning tickets were sold in the past were packed all night Thursday with lottery hopeful confident that lightning will strike again in the same place.
In fact, California is experiencing a bit of a gold rush this week; thousands have been waiting in line -- some for up to six hours – at the Primm Valley Lotto Store on California's Nevada border. Nevada is one of the eight states were you can't buy a Mega Millions ticket, which may be surprising to some given the state's reputation as a gambling mecca.
Gamblers from Las Vegas began to line up at the remote store at 6 a.m. Thursday to get their $1 tickets, according to The Las Vegas Sun.
The state where the winning lottery ticket is sold is also in for a treat. A lump sum payment to a winner will mean millions in taxes paid instantly to the state, which could mean badly-needed funds for education, parks and dozens of other state-funded programs.
The revenue from the sales of tickets is a boon for all 42 states that participate in Mega Millions drawings, as higher sales equal greater profits.
Each state determines individually how these profits are allocated. Though most states earmark these profits for education, other programs for natural resources, property tax relief and the elderly are in the mix.
The odds of winning Friday's Mega Millions jackpot are downright depressing -- a miserable 1 out of 176 million. Yet many Americans are eternally optimistic, with millions dreaming that it's time for their number to come up.
"What if?" Betty Warner of Fargo, North Dakota asked. "You're dreaming. You know, it's your hopes."