$640 million US lottery prize has a winner

A record $640 million lottery prize that sent the United States into a gambling frenzy has gone to as many as three winners, lottery officials and media said on Saturday.

None of the players were identified but officials confirmed that winning tickets were sold near Baltimore, Maryland and Redbud, Illinois, and CNN reported a third winner in the state of Kansas.

“Redbud has a winner,” Illinois lottery superintendent Michael Jones told the broadcaster.

“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.

The winning numbers — 2, 4, 23, 38, 46 with Mega Ball 23 — were announced here at 11:00 pm (0300 GMT Saturday).

There has been no official statement from Mega Millions lottery on the identity of the winners, but MSNBC television cited an unnamed Maryland lottery official in reporting the news.

The Washington Post, using similar sources, said the winning ticket had been sold in Baltimore County.

Experts warned it could be days or even weeks before somebody showed up to claim the prize as winners usually tend to hash out all the legal issues with their lawyers before taking that step.

The chance to get suddenly very, very rich — even if it was only a one-in-176-million chance — had sparked feverish ticket sales at convenience stores and news kiosks across the United States.

There was plenty of fantasizing too on the airwaves and in newspapers about life after winning the monstrous jackpot — a dream all the more powerful in a country with a weak jobs market and still spooked about recession.

The tickets made it unequivocally clear: this was nothing less than “the world’s largest jackpot.”

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 ê4 million per hour.

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’d give most of his fortune to charity. Roger Sierra, a 32-year-old chef, said he’d give 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.”

Although tickets cost only $1, the odds were so long that snapping them up in bulk made little difference.
Organisers also cautioned people about going too far.

“Although most people can play Mega Millions and other lottery games without ill effects, there are some people for whom gambling of any sort can be addictive and very damaging,” the lottery’s website advised.

“Like other addictions, gambling addiction is a treatable disease.”

Mega Millions is played in 42 US states plus the national capital Washington and the US Virgin Islands.
Foreigners can also play, too, but they must be in the United States.

The lucky winner gets to choose between an immediate cash option or the full amount disbursed over 26 annual payments. The prize will then take a severe knock in federal and state taxes.

The previous US record draw, in 2007, was $390 million.

US media were quick to offer advice.

CBS gave the sober suggestion of hiring an investment adviser, while The New York Post devoted an entire page to demonstrate that the premise of money making you happy does not always stand up.

“Winners beware!” the Post headline said over profiles of four seemingly lucky Americans who went “from jackpot to jack squat.”

These included the cautionary tale of Jack Whittaker, who won $315 million in 2002 and lost the lot to thieves and hard living, while his daughter and granddaughter both died from drug overdoses.