Nightly News   |  December 17, 2013

Mega Millions players dream of winning big

On Tuesday night, 45 states will participates in the Mega Millions drawing where the jackpot is now worth more than half a billion -- the second largest jackpot in history. NBC’s Tom Costello reports.

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>>> perhaps you are in an office pool . perhaps you're not seeing this at all because you're in line to buy a lottery ticket . like this line near nipton, california , just over the boarder from nevada , which is one of seven states where they don't play mega millions . the lottery line is so long it stretches back into nevada because tonight's jackpot is $636 million, the second largest lottery in u.s. history . as you can imagine, the odds of winning are astronomical, but that doesn't stop anybody from lining up. our report tonight from nbc's tom costello.

>> reporter: not to put a damper on the country's mega millions fever, but there are cold hard facts to consider. with 259 million possible number combinations at play, the odds of winning are 1 in 259 million, but that hasn't stopped hundreds, even thousands of people, from standing in line on the nevada - california border.

>> take care of my family and have more fun.

>> reporter: it turns out there's a psychology to buying lottery ticket . the more others buy them, the more we think we've got to buy them.

>> as long as it's still possible, it sorts of get people thinking about what it would be like to win, and when we imagine event, they seem even more likely.

>> reporter: only 15 states have sold winning tickets for jackpots greater than $100 million. eight of those have sold multiple winning tickets. the luckiest states, california has sold ten tickets worth more than 100 million. new york has sold nine, followed by ohio, new jersey and georgia. assuming just one person wins, the pre-tax cash payout would be $341 million. what if that person took 80% for themselves and then in the season of giving spread the other 20% among five different charities? we asked three charities how they would use the money, the salvation army .

>> that would give us the opportunity to help 180,000 families with rent or food or utility assistance during the winter season.

>> reporter: habitat for humanitiy.

>> with that type of money, we could build, rehab and repair more than 2,500 homes all across the country.

>> reporter: and the food bank of the rockies in denver.

>> with that kind of a donation, we could provide over 54 million meals to our neighbors in need.

>> reporter: mega millions can go a long way. tom costello, nbc news, bethesda, maryland.