A Georgia woman named Ira Curry has come forward as one of two winners of the $648 million Mega Millions jackpot, less than 24 hours after the lucky drawing for the second biggest lottery jackpot in U.S. history, a lottery official said Wednesday.
Curry, 56, did not appear at an afternoon news conference announcing her as the winner. A state lottery spokeswoman said she was taking the lump sum payment for her share of the jackpot, valued at over $173 million.
Curry bought her winning lottery ticket at the Gateway Newsstand in Atlanta on Friday, in a last-minute decision at the end of the day, state lottery chief Debbie Alford said.
She chose her ticket numbers based on a comination of family birthdays and her family's lucky number, the number 7, which was the winning Mega Ball number. She heard the winning Mega Ball number on the radio as she drove to work Wednesday, called her daughter to check her numbers and was stunned when they matched.
"It's unreal," Curry said. "It's like I'm still dreaming."
The other winning ticket for the Mega Millions jackpot was sold at Jenny's Gift Shop in San Jose, Calif. That winner has yet to come forward, but the owner of the store that sold the winning ticket said he is elated to become a millionaire just for selling it.
"I feel good! I feel good! Come to my store!" Thuy Nguyen told NBC Bay Area outside of his store. "I don't even know. I cannot sleep tonight!"
Nguyen, who bought the store known for its Hello Kitty selection just four months ago, rushed to Jenny's late Tuesday night after a California Lottery official called him at home, NBC Bay Area reported. He wasn't sure who had bought the ticket but guessed he probably knew the winner.
Lottery bonus rules for sellers vary by state, with the Georgia seller excluded from a windfall, NBC Bay Area reported. In Georgia, retailers earn a flat 6 percent commission based on sales, lottery spokesman Alex Traverso told the station.
Mega Millions' lead director Paula Otto, who is also the Virginia Lottery's executive director, said $336 million in tickets were sold for the drawing — they had projected $319 million.
"Sales were a little better than we'd anticipated," Otto said. "It was a fun run, it was our first holiday run for either of the big jackpot games."
The jackpot started its ascent on Oct. 4. Twenty-two draws came and went without a winner, Otto said. She also said a billion worth of tickets were sold during the run, earning the places that offer Powerball — 43 states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands — a total of $300 million.
The winning numbers were: 8, 14, 17, 20, 39; Mega Ball: 7. Twenty $1 million tickets were sold in 15 states, including one in Annapolis, Md.
The jackpot resets to $15 million for the next drawing, which is on Friday night.
Traverso, the California Lottery spokesman, said at one point the state was selling about 25,000 tickets per minute.
"It's been an amazing experience. It's unbelievable," he said.
Mega Millions changed its rules in October to help increase the jackpots by lowering the odds of winning the top prize. That means the chances of winning the jackpot are now about 1 in 259 million. It used to be about 1 in 176 million, nearly the same odds of winning a Powerball jackpot.
But that hasn't stopped aspiring multimillionaires from playing the game.
"Oh, I think there's absolutely no way I am going to win this lottery," said Tanya Joosten, 39, an educator at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee who bought several tickets Tuesday. "But it's hard for such a small amount of money to not take the chance."
The Mega Millions revamp comes about two years after Powerball changed some of its game rules and increased the price of a ticket to $2 and added $1 million and $2 million secondary prizes. Mega Millions remains $1, and an extra $1 option has been expanded to allow up to $5 million as a secondary prize.
The changes in both games were aimed at creating bigger and faster growing jackpots. So far, it looks like it's working.