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Change in lottery rules produce soaring jackpot for tonight’s drawing

Lottery officials got just want they wanted after recently making it harder to claim the multi-state "Mega Millions" jackpot -- the pot has soared to $636 million for Tuesday night’s drawing, just $20 million less than the all-time U.S. record prize.

At 9:15 a.m. Tuesday, lottery officials announced the projected payout had climbed from half a billion dollars to $636 million and may not have peeked.

“It’s possible that number could change before tonight’s drawing,” said California Lottery spokesman Elias Dominguez.

The largest Mega Millions prize of $656 million -- also the largest U.S. lottery prize -- was awarded in March 2012 and was split among three winning tickets. However, given the recent changes to the Mega Millions game players can expect to see soaring jackpots more often.

On Oct. 19, the multi-state body running the Mega Million game approved a change making it easier to win lower level prizes, but harder to cash in the jackpot, Dominguez said. Under the changes, the odds of winning the jackpot went from 1 in 176 million to 1 in 259 million. Meanwhile, the odds of winning some prize went from 1 in 40 to 1 in 15. Nobody was won the prize since the rule change.

“We wanted to reward people with more prizes. There are more lower tier prizes,” Dominguez said. “It’s harder to win a jackpot now, but people like bigger jackpots. That’s what we hoped for and that is what’s happening.”

The change was achieved by adding more number combinations. There are still five numbers and a mega number, but now the numbers range from 1 to 72 as opposed to 1 through 56. However, the possible number combinations on the mega number shrank from 1 through 45 to 1 through 15, Dominguez said.

The change also increased the minimum jackpot from $12 million to $15 million. The drawing occurs at 8 p.m. PST.

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