Jackpot winners give Maryland a lucky state reputation

It’s more likely for someone to get attacked by a shark, crushed to death by a vending machine or struck by lightning than to win a Mega Millions lottery game.

Some Marylanders will say otherwise.

Between jackpots and second-tier prizes, Maryland lottery players continue to beat the odds of becoming millionaires, with five Mega Millions winners so far in 2014.

Marylanders have won 11 Mega Millions jackpots overall since the game came to the state in 1996. Players must match the first five numbers drawn and the Mega Ball in order to win. The game is played in 43 states, plus the District of Columbia and U.S. Virgin Islands. The odds of winning, lottery officials said, are 259 million to 1.

Since January 2013, 20 players have won the second-tier prize. If players match the first five numbers but miss the Mega Ball, they’re considered second-tier winners.

The second-tier prize was $250,000 until December 2013, when it was increased to $1 million, said Erica Palmisano, assistant director of communications at the Maryland Lottery and Gaming Control Agency.

“I’d like to think Maryland is a lucky state. We’ve had a nice run over the last couple years. Our players are considering it a lucky state,” said John Martin, assistant director for the state lottery.

Relatively speaking, Maryland has been lucky. The state has been home to 11 Mega Millions jackpot winners since 2002. According to the Mega Millions website, New York has had the most jackpot winners during that span, with 28, followed by California and New Jersey with 26 and 20, respectively.

Of the 19 states that have been home to a Mega Millions jackpot winner, Maryland has recorded the seventh most overall.

INTERACTIVE MAP: Locations of winning tickets in Maryland -- VIEW HERE

Still, the odds remain high.

To play Mega Millions, players pick five numbers between one and 75, and then choose a number between one and 15 for the Mega Ball. As each number is chosen, the odds of choosing the next number decrease by one, except for the Mega Ball.

“There’s a five out of 75 chance of getting the first ball, four out of 74 for the second one, three out of 73 for the third and so on. So in total, there’s a 258,890,850 to 1 chance of winning the jackpot,” said Tim Sullivan, associate professor of economics at Towson University. “For the second-tier winners, those odds are 18,492,204 to 1.”

Superstition tends to drive the ways players buy lottery tickets and pick numbers. At least 10 of the 31 winning Mega Millions tickets sold since January 2013 were purchased at convenience stores, and at least five were purchased at liquor stores.

Lady’s Liquors in La Plata sold one of the two winning jackpot tickets from the March 18 drawing, worth $414 million. Manager Jay Jhala said there’s been a 10 percent increase in the amount of customers buying lottery tickets.

“I never played the lottery, so I thought maybe somebody would get a prize and make my store famous,” Jhala said.

The Maryland winner has yet to come forward, but will split the jackpot with a winner from Florida. Winners have 182 days from the drawing date to claim the money.

Martin said it’s the players’ decisions whether they feel luckier buying a ticket from one retailer as opposed to another, or one set of numbers over another.

“Every player has their own way to rationalize it. People have routines. So much of their play is routine and falling into predictable patterns,” Martin said.

However, Sullivan said that players shouldn’t look at a specific retailer as a chance to increase their odds of winning.

“The odds are so large that people are looking for connections, but there really isn’t. People don’t remember all the lottery tickets sold in liquor stores that don’t win, but they remember the winners because it’s newsworthy,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan and Martin said that age is also not a factor for lottery winners. Jhala said most of his customers buying tickets continue to be 30 years and older, despite an increase in customers overall.

“Luck just doesn’t sneak up on someone over 55. Luck can happen from 18 and up,” Martin said.

Lottery logic remains random and so does the frequency of winners in Maryland. Players can try to develop a Mega Millions-winning strategy, but the entertainment value ranks higher than the odds.

“Hopefully if you feel lucky at a particular store on a particular day at a particular time, I’d love to be able to hand you a check with your name on it,” Martin said.

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