Big bucks jackpot

By Henry Austin, NBC News contributor
Reported by: Frances Kuo

Christmas could come early for one lucky winner this year if they scoop more than half-a-billion dollars in prize money up for grabs in Tuesday's Mega Millions jackpot.

A last-minute ticket buying frenzy saw the prize swell to $586 million on Monday, and Virginia's lottery director Paula Otto told Reuters she expected another spike in sales before Tuesday's 11 p.m. ET draw.

"We've never had a jackpot this high the week before Christmas," Otto told Reuters. "You like to see winners and you like to see big jackpots. I leave it in the hands of the bouncing balls."

As much as 70 percent of tickets are typically bought the day of the drawing, she added, saying that over the weekend 20 percent more chances were sold over the weekend for the multi-state game.

This pushed the prize closer to the U.S. jackpot record of $656 million won in a March 2012 Mega Millions draw. Closer still is the second largest $590.5 million won in a May 2013 Powerball game.
"If it doesn't surpass the record, we'll be close. It's growing a little faster than we thought," Otto said.

The more tickets sold, the better chance someone will match one of the 259 million possible number combinations that could land a jackpot.

By Tuesday's drawing, players will have bought enough tickets to cover 65 percent to 75 percent of the possible number combinations to strike it rich.

"You don't know you have a winner unless it's 100 percent covered, though," Otto said.

If no one picks the exact combination of numbers that appear on six randomly selected lottery balls, the prize will keep growing until the next drawing on Friday.

If the winner chooses to take the lump sum cash option, instead of payments over 30 years, the jackpot would be $316 million, according to

Reuters contributed to this report.

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