WASHINGTON: A record $640 million US lottery jackpot will be shared by three winners who clinched the prize after days of frenzied ticket-buying sent the windfall soaring ever higher, organizers said on Saturday.
Millions of Americans had queued up hoping to suddenly become very, very rich despite having only a one-in-176-million chance of success but with big dreams of gaining a life-changing fortune from the Mega Millions draw.
The winning numbers -- 2, 4, 23, 38, 46 with Mega Ball 23 -- were announced at 11:00 pm (0300 GMT Saturday) but it took nearly 12 hours more for the company to announce that there were three winners.
“Three tickets matched all six numbers in the Friday, March 30, Mega Millions drawing,” the company said in a statement, confirming that the winning tickets had been purchased in the states of Illinois, Kansas and Maryland. Experts have warned that it may be days or even weeks before the winners show up to claim the prize as legal matters stemming from gaining so much money tend to be resolved before people come forward publicly. The jackpot hit a record level because no one had matched the magic five numbers and Mega Ball since January 24 -- a full 18 draws with no winner.
Given the pace of ticket buying, the prize climbed inexorably higher and late Friday tickets for the mega jackpot were reportedly selling at the unprecedented rate of $4 million per hour. None of the winning players have been identified but media reports said the winning tickets were sold near Redbud, in Illinois, the city of Baltimore, in Maryland, as well as another undisclosed location in Kansas.
“Redbud has a winner,” Illinois lottery superintendent Michael Jones told CNN. “It’s very important now for whoever has that winning ticket to sign the back of the ticket, put it in a safe place, reach out to us so we can begin the process of awarding the person the prize,” he said.
Ticket-buying was feverish at convenience stores and news kiosks across the United States up until late on Friday, with plenty of fantasizing on the airwaves and in newspapers about how life would change after winning the record jackpot. The thought of a win was especially alluring as workers in the United States remain worried by a shaky jobs market in the wake of the 2008 global financial crisis that plunged the country into recession.
The tickets made it unequivocally clear: this was nothing less than “the world’s largest jackpot.” In New York, customers cramming into Midtown News, a hole-in-the-wall newspaper shop that sells the $1 tickets, shared their dreams.
“If I won, I’d retire in New Zealand, because there are more sheep than humans there. Here in New York, there are too many people,” said Romanian immigrant Cosmin Barbos, 37.
Barbos, who does maintenance at a Manhattan law office, said he would give most of the fortune to charity. Roger Sierra, a 32-year-old chef, said he’d give away half. “That’s a promise I made, and I’d help my family. I’d buy a restaurant and we’d have food from all over the world -- French cuisine, American, steaks.”