It's the ultimate fantasy: Walk into a store, plunk down a dollar, and with nothing but luck (really extraordinary luck) you win a giant lottery. Suddenly, you're rich as a sultan with enough money to buy an NBA team or your own island.
The odds of that happening, of course, are astronomical. But tell that to the optimists and dreamers across the country who lined up at gas stations, mini-marts and drug stores Monday for the last-minute buying frenzy in the Mega Millions jackpot. The $586 million prize (the fourth-largest in U.S. history) could grow by Tuesday night's drawing.
The new huge prize stems from a major game revamp in October that dramatically reduced the odds of winning. If no one wins Tuesday night and the jackpot rolls over past the next drawing scheduled Friday, it will reach $1 billion, according to Paula Otto, executive director of the Virginia Lottery and Mega Millions' lead director.
Between 65 and 70 per cent of roughly 259 million possible number combinations will be in play when the numbers are drawn, Otto says. For the ticket-buying optimists, that's no deterrent.
The incredibly remote odds don't really sink in for people, says George Loewenstein, a professor of economics and psychology at Carnegie Mellon University who has researched the motives underlying lottery ticket purchases.
``People don't really understand probabilities at all,'' he says. ``Once you have a bunch of zeroes, it doesn't matter how many you have _ one in 10,000, one in a million or one in a billion. ... People do understand the meaning of the word 'largest.' They overact to one dimension and underreact to the other.''