By Jason Hanna, CNN
(CNN) – The second-largest lottery jackpot in U.S. history will be up for grabs Tuesday night — and it’s even larger than it once appeared.
Strong sales boosted the Mega Millions jackpot to an estimated $636 million from the previous estimate of $586 million, lottery officials announced late Tuesday morning, hours before the 11 p.m. ET drawing.
That’s tantalizingly close to the U.S. record — a $656 million Mega Millions jackpot split by three winning tickets in March 2012. And if the jackpot isn’t won Tuesday, it could be close to $1 billion for Friday’s drawing.
This jackpot is so large in part because Mega Millions, in a sense, became tougher to win. The prize rises with each miss, and no one has won it since organizers increased the pool of numbers to choose from — making astronomical odds even longer — back in October.
That hasn’t stopped would-be millionaires from flocking to stores in the 43 states and other territories where the tickets are sold.
In Florida, $8,000 worth of tickets were sold every minute from 9 to 10 a.m. Tuesday, CNN affiliate WFTS reported, citing lottery officials. Mega Millions tickets go for $1 each, though buyers choose to pay an additional $1 for the Megaplier option, which could multiply lesser, non-jackpot winning prizes.
A lottery player in the Bronx joked the jackpot wouldn’t change his life.
“It would just change my vocabulary. I would say, ‘I quit’ (my job),” he told CNN affiliate News 12 of New York on Tuesday morning at a gas station in the Bronx’s Hunts Point neighborhood.
At Bunny’s Superette in Manchester, New Hampshire, a clerk told CNN affiliate WMUR that Mega Millions sales were brisk Tuesday — she’d gone through four rolls of ticket paper by noon.
One player there, Armand Lesage, said he’d like to use the jackpot to escape snowy New Hampshire for a warm vacation. But he’d also share with his large family.
“My mother had 19 of us, and that is a big family, and 14 are still living,” he told WMUR.
The chance of winning — never particularly bright — got worse in late October, when Mega Millions increased the drawing’s pool of numbers. The odds of hitting the jackpot, which were 1 in 176 million, are now 1 in 259 million.
You have more than 1,000 times better chance of an asteroid or comet killing you — and that’s using the longest estimated odds for the celestial bodies — according to Tulane University.
“Winning the Mega Millions is akin to getting struck by lightning at the same time you’re being eaten by a shark,” Todd Northrop, founder of Lotterypost.com, told CNN.
Previously, lottery players chose five numbers, ranging from 1 to 56. It’s now 1 to 75, but the sixth, gold ball has fewer numbers from which to choose, as the pool decreased from 46 to 15.
No one was won the Mega Millions jackpot since October 1, when the old odds were in play.
The $636 million estimate for Tuesday’s jackpot was the latest figure as of around noon ET, up from the $425 million at play in last Friday’s drawing, Virginia Lottery spokeswoman Rachel Buhse said. If there’s one winner Tuesday, and the winner chooses the lump-sum cash option, the payout would be $341.2 million. Otherwise, the jackpot would be distributed over 30 annual payments.
But if no one wins Tuesday’s jackpot, it will rise to at least $950 million for Friday’s drawing, Buhse said.
That wouldn’t disappoint lottery officials. Paula Otto, the Virginia Lottery chief and lead director of the multistate-group that runs Mega Millions, said in October that the longer odds were meant to drive “larger jackpots and greater excitement.”
Mega Millions tickets are sold in 43 states — all but Alabama, Alaska, Hawaii, Mississippi, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming — plus the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands.