PORTLAND — At first, Jeffrey D’Amico wasn’t sure what he’d do if he won tonight’s world-record $540 million Mega Millions jackpot. How does a person with that kind of money live, he wondered.

Then the Portland resident settled on a role model.

“I would become Richard Branson, not even a question. Islands, planes, space shuttles, music, Mariah Carey, you got it all,” he said.

D’Amico was one of a huge number of people enticed by the giant jackpot to plunk down a dollar for a Mega Millions ticket, many of whom usually don’t play lotteries.

Nobody has won the twice-a-week drawing in the 42-state lottery since Jan. 24, allowing the jackpot to grow to historic proportions. Lottery officials initially estimated a jackpot today of $476 million, but it has been boosted by a huge increase in ticket sales. The Mega Millions lottery website says the previous world record for a jackpot was $390 million.

The winner of the $540 million would have the choice of receiving the full jackpot in 26 annual payments of about $20.7 million, or a cash option of about $389.8 million, according to the lottery website. Odds against winning the jackpot are equally huge — about 1 in 176 million, according to lottery officials.

Winning the lottery, a simple, cheap transaction that could totally transform your life, has always been such a farfetched proposition that the very notion has become synonymous with a miracle.

You are 19 times as likely to be struck by lightning twice, 33 times as likely to be killed in the next year by bees, and 40 times as likely to be dealt five blackjacks in a row, as you are to win Mega Millions, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Statistician Mike Orkin, the author of “What Are the Odds? Chances in Everyday Life,” puts the odds of winning another way.

If you have one friend in Canada, put the name of every person in Canada in a hat and pick one, you are five times as likely to pick your friend’s name as you are to win the jackpot with a single ticket. Facing these odds, he told the Times, if you bought 50 tickets each week, you’d win — sometime before the year 70012.

But when the jackpot for today’s Mega Millions draw vaulted past half a billion dollars — the largest lottery jackpot in world history against the backdrop of a stubbornly sluggish economy and high unemployment — even the skeptical and the frugal were drawn in.

Arline Waecker, one of several people buying tickets Thursday at Joe’s Smoke Shop on Congress Street in Portland, said she could put the money to good use.

“Family would come first — their needs … and friends,” said the nurse case manager, who bought a ticket during her lunch hour. “I probably wouldn’t work any more, but I’d do a lot of traveling.”

Like many players, she said she hadn’t given much thought to what she would do with hundreds of millions of dollars. Mainers interviewed Thursday didn’t want to get their hopes up only to have them dashed.

But once Waecker put her mind to it, the ideas started to come.

“I would buy a new Volvo. I might buy a Mercedes sports car to have in the summer,” she said. She said she would start by visiting the southern Caribbean and then move on to other locales she had never visited.

That legendary Maine work ethic? John Carioti of Portland said he’ll still have it if he wins.

“The first thing I would do is give a lot of it to charity and help my friends and still work at my company. … I love my job,” said Carioti, who works in publishing. He’d help relatives pay their bills so no one would have to struggle.

“You can’t take that stuff with you when you leave,” Carioti said of the luxury items the money could bring.

But he’s no monk: “I’d definitely buy a Ferrari.”

Mark Richards of Portland said he’s one of the occasional players who only buys tickets when a jackpot is huge. He bought a ticket earlier in the week, and now feels committed to playing those same six numbers as long as the jackpot stays high, for fear they might come up if he doesn’t.

“It would just be ridiculous. I can’t even imagine what you’d do” with that much money.

But give him credit for trying.

“I like to fish. I’d have a boat down at DiMillo’s tied up, a nice boat,” he said. “I wouldn’t have to worry about gas anymore.”

And everyone would feel the joy.

“I’d be spreading it around in Portland,” Richards said.

Frank Discatio, son of Joe’s Smoke Shop founder Joseph Discatio, said he could give more to charity if he hit the jackpot, but he hopes, regardless of who wins, that all that money doesn’t end up in one person’s hands.

“No one should be allowed to win that kind of money. They ought to have 100 winners,” he said.

Sharon Wazmis of Portland said she won’t buy a ticket, no matter how big the jackpot.

“I can think of a lot of better ways to spend a dollar,” Wazmis said. She once won $10,000 on a scratch ticket, but then she was hooked on them, she said.

Her husband, Frank Wazmis, was of a similar mind.

“Why spend it on something you’re not going to win,” he said. “I can spend a dollar on the one that I love.” 

The Los Angeles Times contributed to this story 

Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at [email protected]