Mega Millions draws crowd in Pittsburgh

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Jim Mattern couldn't say what he might do with $400 million.

"I know what I wouldn't do: Go to work," said Mr. Mattern, 47, who lives in Mount Washington and works in financial services.

Mr. Mattern, who stopped at the Quick Stop convenience store at Smithfield Street and Fourth Avenue, Downtown, late Thursday afternoon, was one of many hopeful lottery players picking up Mega Millions tickets at a dollar apiece a day before the next drawing for the massive prize, set for 11 p.m. today.

Down the street, Amanda Smith, 25, a shift leader at the Smithfield News convenience store, said she had sold at least 30 Mega Millions tickets since starting work an hour earlier.

"It's been pretty high for a while," she said. "A lot of people don't play until it hits $300 million. It's not worth it unless it's really big, I guess."

The jackpot was estimated at about $400 million before taxes if taken in annual payments or $216.4 million if the winner opts for the lump-sum payout.

It's the second-largest jackpot in the history of the 11-year-old Mega Millions, a lottery game available in 43 states, Washington, D.C., and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The largest Mega Millions prize, $656 million, was split among three winning tickets in Illinois, Kansas and Maryland on March 30, 2012.

Players pick six numbers from two separate pools of numbers -- five different numbers from 1 to 75 and one number from 1 to 15. To win the jackpot, all must match the numbers, which are drawn in Atlanta.

No one has won a jackpot since Mega Millions changed its rules in October.

Among other tweaks, the starting jackpot went to $15 million from $12 million and a wider field of possible numbers -- 1 through 75 instead of 1 through 56 -- was introduced for the five "white ball" numbers. The range for the single "gold ball" number decreased from 1 through 46 to 1 through 15. And while the odds of winning any prize went from 1 in 40 to 1 in 15, the odds of winning a jackpot went from 1 in 176 million to 1 in 259 million.

By comparison, your estimated chances of being hit by lightning over an 80-year lifespan are 1 in 6,250, according to the National Weather Service.

Mr. Mattern acknowledged that his chances of winning were "slim to none."

"You can't win if you don't throw a buck on it," he said with a grin. "I'm supporting the senior citizens of Pennsylvania."

For every dollar spent on a Mega Millions ticket, about 50 cents goes to paying prizes, 40 cents goes to support benefits for elderly Pennsylvanians and 10 cents goes to retailer and vendor commissions, a prize reserve fund and operational costs, said Gary Miller, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Lottery.

The state lottery dedicates all its proceeds to programs that benefit the elderly, including property-tax and rent rebates, free and reduced-fare transportation, low-cost prescription drug programs and senior centers around the state, among others.

The lottery issued a news release Thursday urging "responsible play" as fever over the giant Mega Millions jackpot mounts.

"We advise them not to get swept up in the excitement of a giant jackpot and play within their means," Mr. Miller said, noting that it's "entirely possible" tonight's drawing may fail to produce a jackpot winner.

"It's rolled 20 times to get to this point," he said.

Although there have been 17 jackpot-winning Powerball tickets sold in Pennsylvania, the state joined Mega Millions just three years ago and has yet to produce a winning ticket.

"We're still looking forward to selling our first jackpot Mega Millions ticket," Mr. Miller said.

Robert Zullo: or 412-263-3909. Twitter: @rczullo.

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