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This Powerball jackpot began rolling Sept. 19. If won, it would be the 10th largest jackpot in the game’s history. The Powerball jackpot was one of two large jackpots available through the Illinois Lottery. Nobody hit Friday night’s $520 million Mega Millions jackpot, which means it’s growing to $600 million for Tuesday night’s drawing.

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Andy Weir hit the bestseller jackpot with “The Martian”; his new novel is another interstellar adventure, with an astronaut who’s the sole survivor of a last-chance mission. Penguin Random House, May 4

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Actually, they're wrong every time. That is, it's an estimate and because the exact jackpot is determined by sales figures across 44 states plus Washington, D.C., and the U.S. Virgin Islands, there is no way to hit the exact figure. Usually no one notices, but when you scream that the prize is the biggest ever, then mumble that it's actually the second-biggest, people notice.

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Yes, there's a big difference between the estimate and the actual prize, but in part that's because the prize is so huge. The estimate doesn't sound so wrong if you frame it as being off by about 4 percent. If the prize was estimated as a more common $100 million and the payout was $96 million, would anyone notice?

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Richard McGowan, a Jesuit priest and gambling expert at Boston College, agreed that estimating big jackpots isn't an exact science, but he said officials are under increasing pressure to tout big prizes as the percentage of people playing lotteries has declined over the years. Many people won't even notice a jackpot unless they hear it's the largest ever, he said.

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David Kramer, an attorney in Omaha, Nebraska, said he buys a lottery ticket when the jackpot soars for "the three days of daydreaming it gives me of what I'd do with the money if I won."

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Although Mega Millions is sold in most states, 11 of them largely run the game and are in charge of determining the estimated jackpot, according to Gordon Medenica, director of the Maryland lottery, one of the key 11 states. When jackpots grow especially large , lottery officials from those states compare notes daily about sales figures and combine that information with historical data to make an initial estimate and then decide whether it needs updating.

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