By John Shumway

DES MOINES, Iowa (KDKA/AP) – The Mega Millions jackpot soared to an estimated $636 million on Tuesday, making it the second largest lottery jackpot in U.S. history.

The top prize had been estimated at $586 million, but lottery officials increased their prediction Tuesday morning because of strong ticket sales ahead of the evening drawing. The jackpot now trails only a $656 million Mega Millions pot that was sold in March 2012.

The cash option is $341 million, before taxes.

Dangle more than $600 million out there and it’s like moths to a flame.

“It’s half a billion dollars, that’s the reason,” said one Mega Millions ticket buyer.

Before all is said and done, topping the old record is easily within reach.

“This was last time, we’re not going to win, nobody won, so we’re playing again,” said Kathy Kuszai.

KDKA’s John Shumway: “Did you win anything?”

Kuszaj: “Four dollars on 75, not a good rate of return.”

But that didn’t slow down the group’s effort to dive right back in.

Shumway: “How many people in your group?”

Kuszaj: “Seventeen. Twenty million [dollars] apiece. I’ll hire you out.”

For many who dot the lines of hope, it’s a fantasy with no chosen purpose yet.

“Oh, I have no idea. Try and help some people out I think, just with the holiday’s coming up,” said another man who was buying a ticket.

But for most, there is either desire or need.

“I have a very poor family, so I’ll take care of them all,” said one person.

“I’ll buy my mom a house, buy myself a house, quit my job, and then do mentoring around the world,” said Patrict Anderson, of the South Side.

Mega Millions changed its rules in October to help increase the jackpots by lowering the odds of winning the top prize. That means the chances of winning the jackpot are now about one in 259 million.

Paula Otto, lead director for Mega Millions, said the jackpot estimate was increased after ticket sales surpassed expectations. She also said officials expect about 70 percent of the possible number combinations to be purchased.

“Our sales for tonight’s drawing will be over $300 million,” said Otto, also executive director of the Virginia Lottery. “Yesterday we had estimated that our sales would be about $240 million.”

She noted that if a winner isn’t selected either Tuesday night and for this Friday’s drawing, the jackpot could hit $1 billion – an unheard of amount for Mega Millions or Powerball, the nation’s two main lottery games.

Mega Millions is played in 43 states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands.


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