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Mega Millions jackpot skyrockets to $640 million

March 30, 2012 |  9:38 am

The Mega Millions jackpot that has set off a nationwide case of lotto mania rocketed to $640 million Friday morning, just hours before the historic drawing, lottery officials said.

The enormous prize brings a one-time cash option of an estimated $462 million before taxes, or a winner could choose annual payments of about $24 million before taxes for 26 years.

"This is history, and we’re enjoying it," California spokeswoman Donna Cordova said Friday. "This is just a shared moment for the entire country. We’re rolling into uncharted territory here."

PHOTOS: Mega Millions fever

Lotto fever struck Los Angeles soon after officials announced there was no winner in Tuesday’s $363 million drawing. Officials say they have met every night since Tuesday and watched the number grow from $540 million Thursday to the astronomical figured released Friday.

More tickets are expected to be sold before the 8 p.m. drawing Friday night. Lines hours long have formed at places deemed “lucky retailers” by the lottery and stores like Bluebird Liquor in Hawthorne that are known to sell winning tickets.

“It’s so high — I mean, that’s astronomical,” said Charlie Blair, 70, a retired mechanical engineer.

Blair had never played the lottery until he heard about the record payout, and he headed to a gas station near his Koreatown apartment Thursday to buy a single ticket.

According to the California Lottery, the chance of winning Mega Millions is 1 in about 176 million.

Or as California statistician Mike Orkin, puts it: If you buy 50 tickets a week, you will win the jackpot every 68,000 years.


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-- Matt Stevens, Corina Knoll and Anna Gorman

Photo: A man makes his lottery picks at a convenience store in Manhattan. Credit: Stan Honda / AFP/Getty Images