Mega Millions to raise ticket cost, jackpot size; Arkansas lottery hopes changes lift sales

Mega Millions -- the second-most-popular draw game of the Arkansas Scholarship Lottery -- will change at the end of October, with the cost of a ticket increasing from $1 to $2 and the jackpot starting at $40 million, more than double the current amount.

The first drawing for the overhauled Mega Millions will be Oct. 31, the lottery said in a news release. Drawings are held each Tuesday and Friday. The game is offered in 44 states, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Washington, D.C.

Other changes for Mega Millions players include better odds of winning $1 million, higher average jackpots and faster-growing jackpots with $5 million minimum rolls, according to the lottery.

Mega Millions' ticket revenue has lagged behind that of its competitor, Powerball, in the Arkansas Scholarship Lottery over the past eight fiscal years, according to state records.

In the fiscal year that ended June 30, Powerball's ticket revenue totaled about $32.8 million and Mega Millions' ticket revenue totaled about $14.3 million, lottery records show. Records indicate that the lottery's draw game ticket revenue in fiscal 2017 included $12.3 million for Fast Play, $7.1 million for Cash 3, $7 million for the Natural State Jackpot, $4.2 million for Cash 4 and $2.9 million for Lucky for Life.

While the Arkansas Lottery's draw game ticket revenue totaled $80.7 million, it pales in comparison to the scratch-off ticket revenue of $368.4 million, according to the agency's fiscal 2017 report. Total revenue of $449.9 million included fees paid by more than 1,900 retailers. The lottery raised $85.2 million for college scholarships in the same period.

In fiscal 2017, the state lottery had a Mega Millions jackpot winner. Eliberto Cantu of Abernathy, Texas, bought the winning ticket for the $177 million Mega Millions jackpot March 31. The ticket was sold the day before at a Valero convenience store in Stuttgart.

Lottery Director Bishop Woosley said lottery officials didn't factor the coming Mega Millions game changes into their fiscal 2018 projection for revenue of $459 million and net proceeds for college scholarships of $83.6 million. The new fiscal year started July 1.

"I am hopeful the changes will increase our sales and the amount we are able to put towards proceeds," he said in a written statement. "[G]enerally speaking the lottery makes approximately 40-42 cents from each Powerball or Mega Millions ticket sold. We make less on instant tickets. The profit differs for each price point on instants."

Instant tickets also are called scratch-off tickets. The Arkansas Scholarship Lottery started selling scratch-off tickets on Sept. 28, 2009.

Starting with the Oct. 31 drawing, the Mega Millions base ticket price increases from $1 to $2 and the starting jackpot rises from $15 million to $40 million.

The changes in the Mega Millions game are "the evolution of one of the world's largest jackpot games to make it an even greater game," said Mega Millions spokesman J.B. Landroche, who works for the Georgia lottery. "Changes being made are designed to bring more value to players."

The odds of winning the top prize will get longer, from 1 in 258 million to 1 in 302 million, but the odds of winning a $1 million prize will improve from about 1 in 18 million to about 1 in 12 million, Landroche said.

The number of Mega Millions yellow balls will increase from 15 to 25, while the number of white balls will decrease from 75 to 70, Landroche said.

The starting $40 million jackpot for Mega Millions will match Powerball's starting jackpot and the new ticket price will match that of Powerball, he said. He said the multiplier cost will remain at $1 for the Mega Millions game, as it is for the Powerball game.

The Mega Millions game began nationally on Aug. 31, 1996, as the Big Game, and the first drawing was on Sept. 6, 1996, with the states of Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan and Virginia participating, according to Mega Millions website. Over time, more states were added. In 2002, the game became known as Mega Millions. The most recent major changes to Mega Millions were in October 2013, with higher jackpots, the addition of second-tier prizes of up to $5 million with the multiplier feature, and improved odds, according to the Mega Millions' website.

The Arkansas Lottery has helped finance more than 30,000 Arkansas Academic Challenge Scholarships during each of the past seven fiscal years. The Legislature has cut the size of scholarships three times during this period because net proceeds lagged initial projections and more students than anticipated received the scholarships.

The amount raised for college scholarships has ranged from a high of $97.5 million in fiscal 2012 to a low of $72.6 million in fiscal 2015. But proceeds for scholarships rebounded to $85.2 million in both fiscal 2016 and fiscal 2017.

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