New Mega Millions format forces regular players to adapt

John Johnson has played the same six lottery numbers in every Mega Millions drawing for the past three years.

But in buying his ticket Monday at Union Station in the District, the 59-year-old Bowie man found out he’ll need a replacement for his trusted No. 33 Mega Ball.

Beginning with Tuesday’s drawing, the multistate lottery changed its format — a revision that included decreasing the number of Mega Balls in play from 46 to 15. And while the changes are expected to create more winners and larger jackpots, they’re not sitting well with every longtime player stuck to a routine.

“I’ll just use the extra money and get an additional Powerball ticket,” said Northwest resident “Chris,” who asked that his last name not be used.

A Mega Millions player “for as long as the game has been going,” the 52-year-old said he’s been using his and his wife’s birthdays to make up the six numbers that comprise a Mega Millions ticket, including playing 22 for the Mega Ball.

Standing shocked at the lottery counter, Chris said, “I just faked it. I was just standing there, so I said, ‘Two.’ “

Maryland Lottery spokeswoman Carole Everett said longtime players set on a certain six numbers might have to tweak their game, but the hope is that the benefits of the changes outweigh the heartbreak.

“It’s the same cost, the same price for a ticket, but there are much better odds of winning some prize overall,” Ms. Everett said.

Not everyone is having a hard time adjusting.

“I think it’s great. I’m lucky,” D.C. resident Dorothy Lee said, as she bought a ticket at Union Station.

Along with the Mega Ball adjustment, other changes set to take effect Tuesday include an increase in the number of white balls in play from 56 to 75 and raising the second-tier prize from $250,000 to $1 million.

“That’s a significant prize,” said Paula Otto, Virginia Lottery executive director and lead director of the Mega Millions Consortium, which administers the game. “It’s $1 million instead of $250,000. It’s winnable.”

The Mega Millions drawing is one of two large multistate lotteries. It’s played in 43 states, along with the District and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The other lottery is Powerball, and both drawings have in recent years rolled over historic jackpot prizes.

All but one of the 10 largest jackpots in U.S. history are Mega Millions or Powerball drawings, and the top spot goes to the $656 million Mega Millions drawing in March 2012.

Lottery officials said the Powerball jackpot has ballooned in part because of a ticket price increase from $1 to $2 in January 2012.

Ms. Otto said officials conducted an online survey at the beginning of the year asking roughly 8,000 Mega Millions players for their opinions.

“Most players understand the jackpot and secondary prize, but most can’t quote the other prizes,” Ms. Otto said. “We found that they liked the $1 price, so we had to do some others things to influence how the jackpot grows.”

Among solutions to avoid upping the $1 ticket price for Mega Millions tickets, officials adjusted the numbers available for the five white balls and one Mega Ball, Ms. Otto said. The minimum jackpot has also increased from $12 million to $15 million. Lottery officials said the jackpot should at least increase about $5 million between rollovers.

“From Friday, the jackpot has gone from $37 million to $55 million. Normally at this time it’s about $5 million more,” Ms. Otto said, adding that a faster climbing jackpot means a better chance of “reaching that tipping point of jackpot fever.”

And while the adjustment in numbers means the jackpot is more likely to rollover — or to not have a winner — Ms. Otto said the “much smaller prizes are easier to win. That’s sort of the trade off.”

Those odds were enough to comfort Mr. Johnson, who clutched his ticket in his hand as he made his way from the D.C. Lottery desk in Union Station.

“I like that there are more choices and chances to win,” Mr. Johnson said

As for the new Mega Ball number, he said, “I went with 14.”

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