This is, in fact, officially “news” now that WaPo’s started blast-emailing fluff like this. The drawing’s at 11 p.m. ET in Atlanta. The jackpot? The biggest in the history of the world. Public excitement? Approaching the theoretical levels of a hundred Super Bowls squared.

Be honest. How many of you paid the idiot tax today?

If a single ticket matches all six winning numbers, the player would receive either a one-time payment of \$462 million or the full [\$640 million] jackpot in 26 annual installment payments…

The previous largest Mega Millions jackpot was \$390 million in 2007, which was split between two ticket holders in Georgia and New Jersey…

If no one wins on Friday night, the jackpot will grow to \$975 million. Lottery officials are considering moving the next drawing after Friday to Times Square in New York City as the anticipation and jackpot build, DeFrancisco said.

I didn’t buy a ticket, but in the spirit of the occasion and in the interest of solidarity with hopefuls everywhere, I did pull out a \$10 bill and light it on fire. Say, wait — once the jackpot gets this big, aren’t the odds kinda sorta in your favor? Yes and no.

In theory, since a ticket costs only \$1 and your odds of picking the winning numbers are 1 in 176 million, the lottery should be a reasonable bet when the jackpot climbs past \$176 million. But Ben Casselman points to an analysis by computer scientist Jeremy Elson that lays out some complicating factors. You have to factor in taxes, plus the fact that you get a smaller amount if you ask for an upfront lump sum, plus the risk that you may have to split the winnings with someone else. When the jackpot gets this obscenely large, everyone and their aunt wants to play…

Of course, another strategy would simply be to buy up every single ticket combination. That would cost \$176 million. But you’d be guaranteed to win about \$293 million after taxes. Good deal, right? But there’s one big hitch: “First, if it takes five seconds to fill out each card, you’d need almost 28 years just to mark the bubbles on the game tickets. You’d also use up the national supply of special lottery paper and lottery-machine printing ink well before all your tickets could be printed out.” (Also, if just one other person picked the winning number, you’d end up losing \$30 million all told.)

To celebrate the moment, via BuzzFeed’s Andrew Kaczynski, enjoy this video from 2000 of a young state senator, who would never use games of chance to fund his own campaign, furrowing his brow over the way the lottery acts as a regressive tax on the working class. Second look at saving suckers from themselves?

Update: Alas, there’ll be no billion-dollar jackpot drawing in Times Square after all. There are winners in Maryland, Illinois, and Kansas, and maybe more still to be revealed.

Tags: lottery