A flimsy little piece of paper that crossed the counter of a convenience store on a country road in South Carolina is now worth $1.537 billion, so lottery officials could hardly be blamed Wednesday if anxiety tinged their excitement.
They said a single ticket sold at the KC Mart in Simpsonville, South Carolina, matched all six numbers to win the Mega Millions jackpot.
And unless the winner chooses to come forward, the world may never know who won.
“Our message to the $1.5 BILLION #MegaMillions jackpot winner: Sign the back of the ticket, place the ticket in a safe location, speak with a trusted advisor and CALL THE LOTTERY at 1-866-736-9819. Take a deep breath and enjoy the moment!” the South Carolina Education Lottery tweeted.
The prize is extraordinary by any measure, but particularly so for South Carolina, where it would be enough for an exceedingly generous winner to shower roughly $307 on each of the state’s five million people. It’s about as much as 20 per cent of the $8 billion that state lawmakers have to spend each year.
An earlier Mega Millions estimate of $1.6 billion would have been a world record for lotteries, but actual sales came in below the $1.586 billion Powerball jackpot prize shared by winners in California, Florida and Tennessee in January of 2016.
“The final total was less than the $1.6 billion estimate,” confirmed Carol Gentry, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Lottery, which leads a consortium of state lotteries participating in the Mega Millions jackpot.
“Estimates are based on historical patterns,” she explained Wednesday morning in a phone interview with The Associated Press. “The jackpot’s been rolling since it was hit in July in California, but there are few precedents for a jackpot of this size. Typically, about 70 per cent of sales occur on the drawing day, so forecasting precise numbers in advance can be difficult. That’s why we always use the term estimate.”
The ticket is worth about $877.8 million in a lump-sum cash payment, which most winners choose to take, rather than collect the full amount in annual payments over three decades.
South Carolina is one of eight states — along with Delaware, Georgia, Kansas, Maryland, North Dakota, Ohio and Texas — where winners can remain anonymous. The winner also has up to 180 days to claim the prize.
“Our board has a policy to protect the winner because of all the risk associated with having that much money,” South Carolina Education Lottery Director William Hogan Brown told ABC’s “Good Morning America.”
South Carolina’s previous record-holder — someone who bought a $400 million Powerball ticket in the Columbia area in 2013 — never wanted to be identified.
Holli Armstrong, a state lottery spokeswoman, said the retailer will get a $50,000 payout. TV trucks and gawkers flooded the parking lot ahead of a news conference at the KC Mart and Exxon station, which sits at the bend of a road where Greenville’s suburban sprawl gives way to farm fields.
The biggest Mega Millions jackpot winner prior to this was a $656 million ticket sold back in 2012, Gentry said, “so it’s a record for Mega Millions and it came very close to breaking the world record of all the jackpots.”
The winning numbers were 5, 28, 62, 65, 70 and Mega Ball 5. The lucky player overcame miserable odds: The chance of matching all six numbers and winning the top prize is 1 in 302.5 million.
Mega Millions is played in 44 states as well as Washington, D.C., and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Lottery officials and financial managers encourage winners to take time to map out a strategy for investing their hundreds of millions of dollars, and to prepare for security concerns befitting someone who suddenly becomes immensely wealthy.
The Mega Millions jackpot grew so large because no player had matched all six numbers and won the top prize since July 24, when 11 co-workers from California won a $543 million prize.
Although Tuesday’s jackpot was extraordinarily large, it’s no fluke. It reflects a trend toward ever-growing lottery prizes due to changes in the game that worsened the odds with hopes that bigger jackpots would result in better sales.
Officials with the Powerball game were the first to make that move in October 2015 when changing the odds of winning the jackpot from 1 in 175 million to 1 in 292.2 million. Mega Millions followed suit in October 2017, resulting in the odds worsening from 1 in 259 million to 1 in 302.5 million.
While most attention has been on the Mega Millions game, Powerball also has been soaring. The estimated prize for Powerball’s annuity option in Wednesday night’s drawing is $620 million, with a cash prize of $354.3 million.
Some KC Mart customers Wednesday were hoping some Mega Millions luck would rub off as they played the Powerball.
“Sell me another lucky one. Now I know y’all have it!” Chase Hatcher said, trading smiles across the counter with Jee and Twinkle Patel.
Contributors include Associated Press Writers Jack Jones in Columbia and Michael Warren in Atlanta.
Jeffrey Collins, The Associated Press