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Lottery fever strikes U.S. with $500 million jackpot

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Lottery fever spread across the United States on Wednesday with people in more than 40 states buying tickets for the Mega Millions jackpot that has reached an all-time record of $500 million, officials said.

The cash prize, which officials said could be the biggest in the world, was reached after nobody matched all six numbers in Tuesday's regular draw. The jackpot could rise higher as more people buy tickets for Friday's drawing.

"This is the all time record for any lottery, including the El Gordo lottery in Spain," said Elias Dominguez, a spokesman for the California Lottery, which began offering Mega Millions in 2005.

"We usually see a huge increase in the number of people buying tickets, so the jackpot could well go up again before Friday" when the next winning numbers are picked, he added.

Tandi Reddick, a spokeswoman for the Georgia lottery where the actual drawing of numbers takes place, said peak sales hours on Friday are typically during the evening as people are on their way home from work.

Mega Millions is one of the largest multi-state lottery games in North America and is played in 42 states, plus Washington, D.C. and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Players pay $1 for a ticket and must pick five numbers from 1 to 56 plus a Mega number from 1 to 46 to win the jackpot. The odds of winning are 1 in about 176 million, according to the official Mega Millions website.

The largest Mega Millions jackpot ever won was $390 million in March 2007, when the prize was split between two tickets sold in Georgia and New Jersey.

(Reporting By Jill Serjeant in Los Angeles and David Beasley in Atlanta; Editing by Bob Tourtellotte and Greg McCune)

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