Wednesday, September 27, 2023

The Mega Millions jackpot is $1.28 billion. Here’s what people would do with it.



The $1 billion Mega Millions prize on Friday night that’s had millions of Americans scrambling to buy tickets, and dreaming of ridiculously unlikely plans, would not have happened if not for one player somewhere in Southern California who is wondering what could have been. A player at the Country Store in the desert town of Baker, Calif., matched the first five numbers on Tuesday, but was unable to match the Mega number that would have netted the individual the $830 million jackpot instead of the $2.9 million consolation prize, according to the California Lottery.

But the close call has set the stage for Friday’s drawing — one in which players can somehow win even more money. Mega Millions announced Friday that the jackpot total had been revised to an estimated $1.28 billion, making it the second-largest pot in the game’s history. The lump sum for the big prize is $747.2 million, according to Mega Millions.

The anticipation for the billion-dollar drawing has led players to 7-Elevens, supermarkets, liquor stores and anywhere else that sells Mega Millions tickets for a shot at glory, even if history shows winning that much money doesn’t always equate to happiness.

As Mega Millions hits $1 billion, winning doesn’t mean a happy ending

Despite the odds of matching all six numbers being roughly 1 in 303 million, the question remains: What would you do if you won the $1 billion Mega Millions jackpot? While some joked on social media about how they’d bring back the Choco Taco or be able to afford Bruce Springsteen tickets, The Washington Post spoke to readers about what they’d do if they somehow won the big one.

Hire an attorney as quickly as you can

The excitement that comes with learning of a Mega Millions victory could be undercut after realizing how much life is going to change — and maybe not for the better. Family members they didn’t know existed and friends they haven’t seen in decades will probably want to get reacquainted with the person, or people, who win the $1 billion Mega Millions prize. Robert Pagliarini, who is president of California-based Pacifica Wealth Advisors and has worked with lottery winners, told The Post this week that one of the first things winners should do is connect with an attorney and financial adviser.

Mega Millions or mama’s money, here’s how to manage a windfall

When asked the first thing he would do if he were to win the money, Post reader Aaron Hutton replied, “Get the best attorney I can and change all my phone numbers.” Hutton, 50, of Plano, Tex., said he’s watched one too many documentaries about how lottery winners struggled with sudden wealth, especially when it came to the requests from loved ones.

“It’s more of a curse than a blessing, so if you do win it, you have to structure the money in a way that you don’t have access to it,” said Hutton, an IT professional. “You’re going to be inundated. The average American is just not ready for this situation and won’t know what to do with family and friends coming at them, asking for money.”

Someone in this tiny town won $731 million. Now everyone wants a piece of it.

It’s rare that one moment can instantly pay off all of someone’s debt — student loans, a mortgage, credit cards — but this is exactly what could happen if a player were to buck the improbable odds and win Mega Millions. Players in other lottery games have done so in the past. In 2017, Amanda Dietz played a $5 scratch-off game for the Michigan Lottery and won a $300,000 prize that helped her pay off all of her student loans.

About 1 in 5 Americans hold student loans, totaling about 45 million people. More than half of those with federal student loans have $20,000 or less to pay, with about a third of all borrowers owing less than $10,000, The Post reported. Seven percent of people with federal debt owe more than $100,000.

Who has student loan debt in America?

Gabriela Miankova, 33, told The Post that if she were to play and win Mega Millions, paying off her student loans would be the first thing she’d do.

“I can’t really afford to take out loans for anything else right now,” said Miankova, who is from suburban Chicago but is pursuing her master’s degree in the United Kingdom.

Like past winners, Miankova said she’d also pay off the rest of her parents’ mortgage and all of her brother’s student loans.

Irza Waraich, 18, is in a similar boat, as her Staten Island family has talked about ways to limit their spending to afford her sister’s college education at Stony Brook University.

“I’d pay for her education, as I would feel responsibility for that,” said Waraich, a rising freshman at Baruch College in Manhattan.

Winning the lottery and immediately buying a new house goes together like peanut butter and jelly. Financial experts and past winners have repeatedly shared how buying a home is arguably the most common purchase for someone who has come into sudden wealth through the lottery. Pagliarini said mostly all lottery winners look to buy homes for themselves or their loved ones.

There have been countless stories of big winners buying bigger houses — like the man who put some of his $180 million Mega Millions winnings toward a luxury mountain home in Southern California — and HGTV’s “My Lottery Dream Home” has highlighted some winners’ purchases since 2015.

Miankova, who rents, said it would be her “dream” to buy a home. Mark Glickman, a senior lecturer on statistics at Harvard University, told The Post this week that he’d like to buy a vacation home in La Jolla, Calif., where he just returned from vacation.

While it would also be important to Hutton to think about a home for his family or loved ones, he would be more concerned with making sure the financial futures of his three children were secured.

“We’d have to decide where the boundaries are,” Hutton said. “But with sums this much, whatever you do is going to be a drop in the bucket compared to the total amount of money.”

Donate to causes important to you

After the big-ticket items are purchased, some winners have used their newfound wealth toward issues or projects that mattered most to them.

In 2011, John Kutey and his wife, Linda, used some of his $28.7 million share from the winning Mega Millions ticket of $319 million he bought with co-workers to put toward building a water park in Green Island, N.Y., in honor of their parents, according to the Albany Times Union. In Canada, Bob Erb advocated for the legalization of marijuana in the country after winning $25 million in 2012. Crystal Dunn took her smaller winnings of more than $146,000 from a Kentucky Lottery online game earlier this month and gave some of it away to strangers in the form of $100 grocery store gift cards.

In a summer dominated by headlines about gun laws and abortion rights, some Post readers said they’d direct their winnings toward the hot-button issues of the moment.

Though Hana Varsano is not allowed to legally play Mega Millions, the 16-year-old would give some of her hypothetical winnings to LGBTQ charities in response to some of the laws being passed in the United States, such as Florida’s Parental Rights in Education Law, popularly known by critics as the “don’t say gay” bill. She said she’d also want to put funding toward abortion resources for women in states where “trigger laws” are in place.

“I would also donate money for more reproductive health education so women don’t get misinformed,” said Varsano, of Culver City, Calif.

Waraich agreed, noting that causes surrounding guns and abortion, as well as Ukraine and the Middle East, would benefit from any Mega Millions winner.

“There are still a lot of problems going on,” she said. “Whoever wins the lottery — me or you or whoever — they could donate it to multiple causes.”

But get something nice for yourself, too

With all the practical spending and investments out of the way, the Mega Millions winner, or winners, will be presented with a seemingly endless list of possibilities for impulse purchases. Some have been traditional — cars, traveling, collector’s items — but other examples have ranged from gambling binges in Atlantic City to starting a women’s professional wrestling organization to funding a crystal meth ring. Not much is unavailable from a menu featuring decadence and sometimes despair.

Miankova envisions what all that money could do to help her live in Spain and fund a three-month trip around the world. Hutton, an avid racing fan, would look to buy a Porsche and attend the Monaco Grand Prix, the legendary, and expensive, Formula One race. He’d also want to start a racing team of his own.

“Racing is one of those things you can sink a ton of money into,” he said.

Remember to have fun playing Mega Millions

Don’t bank your future on winning Mega Millions because it probably isn’t happening.

Hutton is likely to pick up two tickets — one with numbers at random, one with numbers of his children’s birthdays. His biggest win to date is $250 from a scratch-off ticket. “That was huge,” he said.

Even if Miankova were to play, she said the buzz around the “what if?” of the Mega Millions jackpot is only temporary.

“I have these big dreams, but winning is very unrealistic,” she said. “That would be just wasting my money.”

Ali Pannoni contributed to this report.

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