Mega Millions: A long shot at $355 million

lottery_winners.top.jpgGarina Fearon, center, a corrections officer from Brooklyn, N.Y., won a $54 million Mega Millions jackpot in September. By Aaron Smith, staff writer


NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- Gamblers lined up Tuesday at newsstands and gas stations in 41 states and Washington, D.C., hoping to overcome astronomical odds and win one of the largest jackpots in U.S. lottery history.

"The odds are 1 in 176 million," said Carolyn Hapeman, a spokeswoman for New York State's lottery division. "But plenty of people have done it before."

The winner of the $355 million Mega Millions jackpot can accept it two ways: as a $224 million lump sum or as 26 annual payments before taxes. Uncle Sam and state and local governments all get their piece, said Hapeman, adding that most winners go for the cash option.

The promise of sudden riches has put dollar signs in the eyes of lottery players.

"Help my family, give some to my church, enjoy my life," said Jose Guzman, a hotel worker from New Jersey and Mega Millions player, when asked what he would do with the jackpot.

The winner, or winners, will be announced Tuesday night -- assuming that there is a jackpot winner. There hasn't been one since Nov. 25, when a winning $25 million ticket -- as yet unclaimed -- was bought in Broadview Heights, Ohio, according to the Mega Millions website.

In order to win, players have to hit the first five numbers plus the so-called mega ball. Players who hit the first five numbers without the mega ball win $250,000.

There have been several quarter-million winners, but no jackpot winner, allowing the jackpot to grow over time. It will continue to grow if no one strikes all six numbers on Tuesday.

The largest U.S. jackpot ever, $390 million in Mega Millions, was won on March 6, 2007, split by two people from Georgia and New Jersey.

The second-largest jackpot -- and the largest ever in the other big multi-state lottery, Powerball -- was $365 million won by ConAgra Foods co-workers in Nebraska on Feb. 18, 2006.

Many of the winners, including the ones from New York, are required to make a public appearance after they win, but after that they can fade from public view, according to Hapeman.

Curse of the lottery

Some winners don't live happily ever after. The so-called lottery curse, popularized by the corpulent character "Hurley" on ABC's show "Lost," has ruined at least a dozen winners over the years who couldn't handle the sudden influx of fortune and fame.

The most infamous case is that of Andrew "Jack" Whittaker, a construction company owner from West Virginia who won $315 million from Powerball in 2002.

Already a millionaire before he won the lottery, Whittaker pledged part of the winnings to his church.

But it all went downhill from there, according to published reports.

Whittaker's post-lottery problems are said to have included lawsuits, divorce, drunk driving, the theft of a cash-stuffed briefcase in a strip club, and the untimely deaths of his daughter and granddaughter.

Hapeman said the curse hasn't touched any lottery winners from New York, the most recent being Garina Fearon of Brooklyn, a corrections officer who won a $54 million jackpot from Mega Millions on Sept. 17.

"When I saw I had the numbers I started running, jumping and screaming all over the parking lot," said Fearon, according to Mega Millions. "Everyone saw me running around. They must have thought I was crazy or something."

-- CNN senior correspondent Allan Chernoff contributed to this story. To top of page

Frontline troops push for solar energy
The U.S. Marines are testing renewable energy technologies like solar to reduce costs and casualties associated with fossil fuels. Play
25 Best Places to find rich singles
Looking for Mr. or Ms. Moneybags? Hunt down the perfect mate in these wealthy cities, which are brimming with unattached professionals. More
Fun festivals: Twins to mustard to pirates!
You'll see double in Twinsburg, Ohio, and Ketchup lovers should beware in Middleton, WI. Here's some of the best and strangest town festivals. Play
Index Last Change % Change
Dow 16,408.54 -16.31 -0.10%
Nasdaq 4,095.52 9.29 0.23%
S&P 500 1,864.85 2.54 0.14%
Treasuries 2.70 -0.02 -0.70%
Data as of 9:16am ET
Company Price Change % Change
Western Union Co 15.25 -0.80 -4.98%
Regions Financial Co... 10.22 -0.12 -1.16%
Twenty-First Century... 32.52 0.87 2.75%
Oracle Corp 40.08 -0.05 -0.12%
KeyCorp 13.56 0.05 0.37%
Data as of Apr 17
Sponsors

Sections

On eve of hearing UAW says it will no longer challenge loss in organizing election at Volkswagen's only U.S. plant. More

Obamacare sign ups hit 8 million, though final enrollment remains to be seen. More

Schwinn, Trek and Cannondale are all iconic American bicycle brands. But none of them are made in the United States. More

Getting people to donate money is a big business, and some universities, hospitals and other nonprofits are rewarding their top fundraisers with as much as $1 million to bring in the big bucks. More

Market indexes are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer LIBOR Warning: Neither BBA Enterprises Limited, nor the BBA LIBOR Contributor Banks, nor Reuters, can be held liable for any irregularity or inaccuracy of BBA LIBOR. Disclaimer. Morningstar: © 2014 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Disclaimer The Dow Jones IndexesSM are proprietary to and distributed by Dow Jones & Company, Inc. and have been licensed for use. All content of the Dow Jones IndexesSM © 2014 is proprietary to Dow Jones & Company, Inc. Chicago Mercantile Association. The market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved. FactSet Research Systems Inc. 2014. All rights reserved. Most stock quote data provided by BATS.