October is beginning to look a lot like Christmas for gamblers, and one Chicago newsstand is playing Santa, handing out 548 free lottery tickets in the Loop Friday ahead of a record-setting prize drawing.
Friday’s 10 p.m. Mega Millions drawing has a jackpot of $548 million, the third-largest in the game’s history and the ninth-largest of all jackpots played in the United States. Tickets are sold online and at retail outlets until 9:45 p.m.
To commemorate the more than half-billion dollar prize, Illinois Lottery representatives gave out 548 free tickets — one ticket per million dollars in the jackpot — to visitors at Marquette Newsstand, 140 S. Dearborn St. in the Loop, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Friday.
Streams of people approached the newsstand, some waiting a few minutes in line for their free tickets.
“I normally don’t play the lottery, but I have an opportunity for a free ticket, so how could I not?” said Matt Zdan, who was waiting in line. He said that if he won, he would spend the money paying off debts, putting his kids to school and going on vacation.
The odds of winning the Mega Millions jackpot are 302,575,350 to 1.
“It’s a chance. You can’t win unless you play,” said Jamiu Kolawole after he received his free ticket. He said he’d spend winnings on investments and travel, particularly to London, Dubai and India.
Many people hoped to spend their hypothetical winnings on travel. Others said they’d also pay off debts and give to charity.
The top Mega Millions jackpots of all time are $656 million in 2012 and $648 million a year later.
Mega Millions jackpot prize totals climb each drawing when no players claim a perfect six-number match to the drawing. After Tuesday’s picks this week, the jackpot climbed $78 million after no one matched all six numbers. It was the 22nd consecutive drawing that left the jackpot untouched.
The Powerball drawing, set for Saturday at 10:59 p.m., has a jackpot of $314 million. Tickets are sold at retail outlets or online, and cut-off 59 minutes before the drawing.
The Powerball jackpot, too, climbed after no one matched all six numbers Wednesday night, but three lucky winners matched the first five numbers for a cool $1 million.
The $314 million ranks as the 24th-highest in the game’s history and the 41st-highest combined jackpot ever i the U.S.
Win them both and, well, you’d make history … and earn $862 million. Not bad for a couple of $2 tickets.
USA Today contributed to this story