Mega Millions jackpot jumps to $970M ahead of Friday’s drawing

Who wants to be a billionaire (or something close to it)?

Despite insanely long odds — one in 302.5 million — someone with an unparalleled gift for picking numbers — or an astonishing amount of good luck— very well could match all six Mega Millions numbers on Friday, and win a jackpot that currently stands at a mind-blowing $970 million.

Officials raised the estimated jackpot Thursday for the second time because of strong sales ahead of Friday night’s drawing for what would be the second-largest lottery jackpot in U.S. history.

The largest U.S. jackpot was about $1.6 billion, for a 2016 Powerball contest, and it was shared by the holders of three winning tickets.

Mega Millions is played in 44 states, plus Washington, D.C., and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

No one has matched all six numbers and won the Mega Millions grand prize since July 24.

States have different rules, so depending on where you purchased the ticket, you have from 180 days to a year to claim the jackpot.

Lottery officials recommend winners take a deep breath, put their winning ticket in a safe spot, and consult with a reputable financial planner before popping over to the lottery headquarters.

The $970 million refers to the annuity option, paid over 29 years. Most winners take the cash option, which would pay more than half a billion dollars after taxes, or an annuity, with one initial payment and annual installments over 29 years.

Nearly all winners opt for cash, but the annuity has advantages, as it reduces the tax bill a little and offers a stable flow of income that climbs by 5 percent annually.

Melissa Labant, a tax policy expert at the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, said winners should realize that while taxes initially are withheld when prizes are awarded, more money likely will be due at tax time as people suddenly find themselves in a higher tax bracket.

“That catches people off guard,” she said. “You have to be prepared to write another check to the IRS in April.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.