Mega Millions is raising its entry price and tinkering with its formula to draw larger jackpots.
Mega Millions is raising its entry price and tinkering with its formula to draw larger jackpots. (Maya Earls / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Mega Millions, a lottery game offered in Maryland and 43 other states, is going the way of Powerball: It’s raising entry prices and tinkering with its formula to produce larger, more eye-catching jackpots.

The changes represent a trade-off for consumers. The cost per play is increasing from $1 to $2, and the odds of hitting the jackpot will climb from 1 in 258.9 million to 1 in 302.6 million.

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But the size of the starting jackpots will rise from $15 million to $40 million, and the pot will increase more quickly than before if nobody hits. Also, players will have better odds of winning a “second-tier” prize of $1 million.

Mega Millions, whose sales have been declining in Maryland, has drawings on Tuesday and Fridays. Tickets for the reconfigured game go on sale Saturday for Tuesday night’s drawing.

“Mega Millions will be very similar to Powerball, also priced at $2,” said Maryland Lottery director Gordon Medenica. “The changes are designed to produce faster-growing and larger jackpots.”

Mega Millions players pick numbers to try to match those selected in a drawing in Atlanta. Players can also have their numbers chosen at random.

In 2015, the Powerball formula, called the "matrix," was tweaked by the game's overseers to boost the chances of giant jackpots, as well as to offer more wins of secondary prizes. Under the change, the chances of winning the biggest prize went from 1 in 175 million to 1 in 292 million. But the odds of winning any prize were boosted.

Powerball managers achieved their objective. In 2016, the game produced a $1.6 billion jackpot, its largest ever. The jackpot, shared by players in Tennessee, Florida and California, caught the nation's attention and reversed the game's fortunes.

Mega Millions recorded its highest jackpot in 2012 — $656 million, split by players in Maryland, Illinois and Kansas. The Maryland winners, who called themselves “the three amigos,” chose to remain anonymous.

Buoyed by the growth of instant tickets, or “scratch-offs,” the Maryland Lottery reported setting records for fiscal-year sales in 2017 — nearly $2 billion — and for prizes paid to players. The Maryland Lottery ranks ninth among the nation's 44 lottery-playing states in sales per capita, according to a recent state report.

But Mega Millions is on the same sort of downward spiral in the state that Powerball was before it was changed.

Mega Millions sales in Maryland fell from $82 million in fiscal year 2015, to $73 million in 2016, to $66 million in the year ending June 30.

Analysts have used the term “jackpot fatigue” to describe how years of escalating jackpots have made many players indifferent to all but the most astronomical of payouts.

“We have a demand for innovation to keep fresh, entertaining lottery games and to deliver the attention-grabbing jackpots,” Mega Millions President Debbie D. Alford said in a statement.

Maryland lottery officials said that the state participated in the design of the changes and that approval was unanimous among the states that are part of the Mega Millions consortium..

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