ATLANTA (WXIA) -- At half a billion dollars, the MegaMillions lotto jackpot is now higher than it's ever been. And as more and more tickets are sold, it's only getting higher. The sign on Peachtree Road said $476 million Wednesday morning, and by the afternoon it had risen to $500 million.
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Almost 840 million tickets have been sold nationwide since late January, the last time anyone won a MegaMillions drawing. About 33 million of those sold in Georgia.
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On Wednesday afternoon, people were buying about 150,000 tickets an hour in Georgia.
The extra lottery tickets sold for this big jackpot will definitely help education in the state.
No one knows, yet, by how much.
But it will not be enough to cover the shortfall.
The education programs -- Georgia's HOPE scholarship program and Pre-Kindergarten programs -- now cost $1 billion a year.
The Georgia lottery, one of the most successful in the world, is falling short of that. It's contributing $883 million, which is more than $100 million short.
Out of every $1 spent on a lottery ticket in Georgia, most of it goes toward the prize money; roughly 60 cents out of every dollar becomes part of the jackpot. Most of the rest goes to education in Georgia, about 30 cents out of every $1 ticket. So 30 percent of all the sales go to HOPE scholarships and Pre-K. That means that Georgia would have to sell more than 300 million additional lottery tickets to cover that education shortfall of $100 million.
That's not going to happen even when the jackpot is at $500 million.
But every dollar helps.
"This is amazing. This is just, plain amazing," Margaret DeFransisco, President and CEO of the Georgia Lottery Corporation, said Wednesday evening.
"What this means is that increased sales means increased profits; increased profits means more money for the HOPE scholarship program and the Pre-Kindergarten program. It's as simple as that," she said. "All the different initiatives that we have going are all to sell more tickets; that's what we're all about. We have a single focus. [But] we've kind of reached the apex of where we can be."
DeFransisco pointed out that MegaMillions was created in Georgia 10 years ago. It is now played in 42 states, in Washington, D.C., and in the Virgin Islands.
"When MegaMillions began, literally we were sitting around a table saying, 'Imagine what will happen when the jackpot rolls to $500 million,'" DeFransisco said. "That was 10 years ago. It's taken 10 years to get to this level.... $500 million is a world record. This is unheard of anywhere, anywhere, on earth.... What the jackpot will be Friday night, it's hard to say."
"An important thing is for people to remember that this is a very-long-odds game. It's 175 million to one," she added. "So it's really important for people to play responsibly. Put in just $1, because that's all you need to win." She also suggested banding together with several, trusted friends and co-workers, and paying $1 each for several tickets -- to benefit Georgia education.
The peak time for lottery ticket sales usually occurs during the evening rush hour on the day of the drawing, which is Friday.
Many visitors to a Buckhead QuickTrip on Wednesday said they made the decision to buy a ticket for the first time.
"To me, I wait until you get high enough to justify it; otherwise you'll play every week and that doesn't justify the odds," said Gabe Lembeck. "But you might as well play and have fun."
When questioned on camera, most ticket buyers said they would support charities and family members if they won. With the odds of winning at one in 175 million, they might not realize, at first, that they are more likely to be struck by lighting or attacked by a shark than to win the MegaMillions drawing.
Many buyers were still confident. Others weren't exactly counting on a win.
"I'll get a little flutter [watching the drawing,] but I'm not going to get my hopes up," said Duke Lee. "I'm not going to go out and start spending money, if you know what I mean."
DeFransisco said the cash pay-out on a $500 million lottery ticket would be $359.4 million.