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Mega Millions jackpot: Chance for new record?

If the $344 million jackpot rolls over, sales will surely soar.

The Mega Millions jackpot for Dec. 10, 2013, is the biggest since late March 2012.
The Mega Millions jackpot for Dec. 10, 2013, is the biggest since late March 2012.Read more

Mega Millions players are wondering: How high can the jackpot go?

The latest Mega Millions jackpot is up to $344 million, the game's biggest in a year-and-a-half, and it's never had a jackpot this big as likely to roll over, thanks to longer odds established in late October.

The last time the Mega Millions was this huge, in March 2012, it rolled over and wound up setting the all-time U.S. jackpot record -- $656 million.

The current annuity jackpot became the game's fourth largest ever when no one hit all the numbers drawn Friday night: 11, 29, 44, 63 and 64, with a Mega Ball of 3.

Missing only the Mega Ball were four tickets, sold in Illinois, Michigan, Ohio and Washington. They're worth $1 million each.

Saturday night, Powerball rolled over as well, rising to $122 million, with $1 million winners in Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Florida and Texas. The Powerball numbers: 13, 20, 32, 45 and 48, with a Powerball of 17.

Powerball's smaller jackpot and pricier tickets ($2 vs $1) leaves Mega Millions in the driver's seat.

If no one hits Mega Millions on Tuesday night, could we see new records? The March 30, 2012, drawing also set a record for largest cash jackpot ever in America -- $471 million.

See: Biggest jackpots in U.S. lottery history

But don't bet on seeing history by Friday.

Next week's another story.

To whip up that kind of frenzy again, Mega Millions might have to roll over twice.

The March 2012 frenzy was unprecedented because the jackpot was unprecedented. It not only shattered the previous record, it broke its own record several times. It was announced at $476 million, then quickly got raised to $550 million, then hiked to $600 million, only to be revised way upward when the smoke finally cleared, with three tickets matching the winning numbers.

Since then, four Powerball jackpots of $300 million or more have rolled over, and two flirted with the $600 million barrier, but neither broke it. A November 2012 jackpot set a new Powerball record of $587.5 million, and that was broken in May when a Florida octogenarian hit a $590.5 million prize.

Maybe some folks get jaded by giant jackpots.

Take the case of two recent $300 million Powerball jackpots. One this August wound up at $448 million, but the next one, the following month, wound up being considerably less: $399.4 million.

Still, a little less insanity might even be a good thing, if you're rooting for a record.

The more people play between drawings, the more likely the jackpot will get hit. Spread out those tickets, though, and the odds for a rollover rise.

With longer odds of winning – up to 1 in 259 million vs. 1 in 176 million before the October changes – it's possible that Mega Millions could soar past $400 million Tuesday night, and roll over Friday night into record-setting territory.

Or maybe not.

Powerball is actually harder to hit than Mega Millions, for a given hike in sales. Theoretically all 259 million Mega Millions combinations could be bought for $259 million. But that much money would only cover 129.5 million of Powerball's 175 million combinations, since Powerball costs $2 each.

And yet Powerball has failed to break the record.

Then again, Mega Millions may just have its own growth curve.

It was offered long before Powerball in the biggest states -- New York, California, Texas, Michigan, Illinois and Ohio – so big city buying habits and media coverage might work in Mega Millions' favor.

Also, perhaps it's easier to part with $10 knowing you're buying 10 chances in Mega Millions, compared to five in Powerball.

Contact staff writer Peter Mucha at 215-854-4342 or