Across the country, Americans plunked down an estimated $1.5 billion on the longest of long shots: an infinitesimally small chance to win what could end up being the single biggest lottery payout the world has ever seen.
The Mega Millions jackpot on Friday was worth $640 million. The winning numbers: 2-4-23-38-46, Mega Ball 23.
It was a cheap investment for the chance of a big reward, no matter how long the odds — 1 in 176 million.
"Twenty to thirty dollars won't hurt," said Elvira Bakken of Las Vegas. "I think it just gives us a chance of maybe winning our dream."
So what would happen if the country spent that $1.5 billion on something other than a distant dream?
For starters, it could cure everyday worries for hundreds of thousands of American families hit by the Great Recession. It costs an average of $6,129 to feed the typical family for a year — meaning the cash spent on tickets could fill up the plates of 238,000 households. Or fill the gasoline tanks of 685,000 households annually.
For the states that participate, the money spent on lotto tickets is hardly a waste. It doesn't all end up as the winner's personal fortune — much of it is used by states to fund education and other social service programs.
Though the specifics vary among the 42 participating states and the District of Columbia, about half of ticket sales go into the jackpot. Another 35 percent goes to support government services and programs, while the rest funds lottery operating costs.
On Friday, the lottery estimated that total ticket sales for this jackpot, which has been building up since Jan. 28, will be about $1.46 billion, said Kelly Cripe, a spokeswoman for the Texas Lottery Commission.