DES MOINES, Iowa — If it seems that giant lottery jackpots have people lining up at convenience stores more frequently, just wait: More big payouts could be coming.
Most attention has been on Powerball jackpots since the game’s rules were changed in early 2012 to boost payoffs. For Wednesday’s drawing, Powerball’s estimated $400 million jackpot will be the nation’s fifth-largest ever, though its jackpot hit $590 million earlier this year.
Now organizers of the country’s other big lottery, Mega Millions, are planning changes of their own.
Although Mega Millions still holds the record for the largest jackpot in U.S. history — a $656 million prize in March 2012 — organizers are hoping to more regularly see huge jackpots by lessening the odds of winning big while upping a player’s shot at smaller but still hefty prizes.
Mega Millions doesn’t plan to change its $1 ticket price, but an extra $1 option already in the game will be expanded to allow players to increase their secondary prize total to between $1 million and $5 million, a major increase from $250,000.
Game changes also include boosting the starting jackpot from $12 million to $15 million, and allowing the jackpot to grow by at least $5 million between drawings when no top winner is selected.
It’s those jackpots, not the name on the game, that ultimately draw in 45-year-old Trent Shenefield.
“Depends on what’s up the highest,” the electrician said Tuesday while at a QuickTrip convenience store in suburban Kansas City. “I guess everyone wants to win the big one.”
But fellow lottery player Bob Knowles, a school bus driver in Iowa, said the changes didn’t really matter. The 62-year-old said he purchases tickets for both games several times a week and would be happy with any jackpot.
“That’s nice, but I don’t care. I can get by with $10 million. I can get by with $3 million,” he said after buying Powerball tickets at a grocery store in Des Moines. “I just play along with the Mega and Powerball. What it starts off with would be pretty comfortable for me to win.”
The changes take effect for the Oct. 22 drawing and were based on extensive consumer research, said Paula Otto, executive director for the Virginia Lottery and lead director for Mega Millions. She said officials decided not to increase ticket prices, but acknowledged Powerball’s success after it increased its ticket prizes from $1 to $2.
“Certainly we were looking at the fact that changes that Powerball made, primarily by increasing the price point, it definitely favorably impacted the jackpot,” Otto said. “It’s doing what it’s supposed to do, which is helping Powerball have bigger jackpots on a pretty consistent basis.”
She noted that both games are now sold side by side, as part of a 2010 licensing agreement, in 43 states, plus the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
“It’s great to have both games available to players and to have drawings four nights a week. I think that the two games complement each other,” Otto said.
The Iowa-based Multi-State Lottery Association is operated by 33 state lotteries that help oversee Powerball. Mega Millions has no central office and is run by individual state lotteries that handle their own accounting matters.
“I applaud them for looking at changes,” said Iowa Lottery CEO Terry Rich. “You need to revise, you need to refresh. Any good, big company knows that you need to revitalize your product.”
The next Powerball drawing is scheduled Wednesday at 9:59 p.m. CDT.