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U.S. Mega Millions jackpot hits record $550M

A customer receiving a free Mega Millions Lottery ticket from the Mega Millions mascot in Zionsville, Ind., March 30, 2012. AP/Michael Conroy

Lottery fever spread across the United States on Thursday with people in more than 40 states buying tickets for the Mega Millions jackpot that has reached an all-time record of $500 million US, officials said.

The cash prize, which officials said could be the biggest in the world, was reached after nobody matched all six numbers in Tuesday’s regular draw. The jackpot could rise higher as more people buy tickets for Friday’s drawing.

William Landrum said he had high hopes for the ticket he bought on Thursday.

“This is the winning ticket right here — 500 million,” he said.

“I play the lottery because it’s a dream. It’s a big dream that may come true some day, you know? And if it comes true? Wow,” he said.

Mega Millions is one of the largest multi-state lottery games in North America and is played in 42 states, plus Washington, D.C. and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Players pay $1 for a ticket and must pick five numbers from one to 56 plus a Mega number from one to 46 to win the jackpot. The odds of winning are one in about 176 million, according to the official Mega Millions website.

Many players, like Terry Garcia, play in an office pool, each contributing to buy more tickets and share the winnings.

“I’m a receptionist and we’re buying a whole bunch of tickets hoping to win,” she said.

And if they were to win?

“We’re all going to quit. We’re all going to go,” she said.

The largest Mega Millions jackpot ever won was $390 million in March 2007, when the prize was split between two tickets sold in Georgia and New Jersey.