Mega Millions Mania: Americans Dream of Winning Big

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Much of the country is caught up in a lottery frenzy as more than a half billion dollars is on the line tonight -- the largest ever Mega Millions jackpot.

The chances of winning 1 in 176 million, but that's not stopping the nation from dreaming of hitting it big.

Thousands have waited in line, some up to six hours, consumed by the lotto fever and hoping to buy the winning ticket.

But for a chance at $640 million, customers don't seem to mind.

Nearly 400 million tickets have been sold nationwide in less than 48 hours since Tuesday's drawing failed to produce a jackpot winner.

"I normally don't play the lottery, but because it's so big I decided to take a chance," Wisconsin Mega Millions player Mary Wittke said.

Players are six times more likely to be struck by lightning and 17 times more likely to get hit by falling airplane parts than winning the Mega Millions jackpot.

"It's slim but I'm going to take that chance like anybody else," one customer said.

The retailer that sells the winning ticket also gets a hefty bonus. And local governments have a stake too.

"In Texas, all of our lottery revenue goes to public education. That varies state to state," explained Texas Lottery Commissioner Gary Grief.

Matthew Vaz, a history professor at The City College of New York, explains that the lotto frenzy is all part of a "jackpot mentality."

"For lots of people it is an escape... it is a way to sort of dream your way out of the current reality," he said.

Alexa Von Tobel, CEO of Learnvest.com, also said there's a potential dark side for the buyer of the winning ticket.

"Forty-four percent of people who win the lottery, within five years they've blown through all their winnings," he warned.

Jack Whittaker won the lottery in 2002, nearly $315 million.

"(I thought), 'I can take this much money and do a lot of good with this much money right now," he recalled.

But it didn't exactly turn out as planned. Hardship consumed Whitaker's life, and many of his winnings were stolen.

Experts say slightly more men than women are buying tickets for the latest jackpot, but women who play the lottery spend more money than men.

--Originally aired March 30, 2012.

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