THE search is on in America for the winners of the world’s biggest ever lottery jackpot of $640 million (£400m), after it was revealed at least three winning tickets had been purchased.
The winning tickets were bought in Maryland, Illinois and Kansas, and Mega Millions lottery officials are now waiting for their lucky owners to come forward.
Americans spent an estimated $1.5 billion to enter the draw for the jackpot, which had reached the record level because no-one had matched the winning numbers since the end of January.
Forty-two states across the US took part in the draw. Lottery officials in Maryland and Illinois said that winning tickets were purchased in their states, and a winning ticket was also bought in Kansas.
The Maryland ticket was purchased at a “7-eleven” shop in the Baltimore area and the Illinois ticket in the town of Red Bud near St Louis. The Kansas ticket was bought in the north-east region of the state, though the actual town was not disclosed.
“We can confirm that a winning ticket was sold in Illinois,” said Illinois Lottery spokeswoman Liz Leonard. She said the winner there had used the “quick pick” method of choosing numbers, equivalent to a Lotto Lucky Dip in the UK.
The winners, whose tickets had all six numbers of the Mega Millions lottery drawn on Friday night, will split the jackpot, and get $213m each before tax.
“This is truly remarkable and historic,” said Maryland lottery director Stephen Martino.
The winning numbers announced at the draw in Atlanta were 2-4-23-38-46 and Mega Ball 23. Winners could receive either a one-off payment, or choose to take it in 26 annual instalments.
Though the winner may want to remain anonymous, in Illinois the state is required to eventually list his or her identity in public records.
A lottery official in Maryland said the winning ticket there was also a “quick pick”, but the identity of the person who bought the ticket was not yet known. The owners of the “7-eleven” shop will receive a $100,000 bonus for selling the winning ticket, in addition to the usual 5 per cent of each $1 ticket sold.
There had been tremendous excitement across the US ahead of the draw – which rivals Europe’s biggest lottery, Spain’s El Gordo – with more than one billion tickets sold.
On Friday, people stood in line at shops throughout the US in order to buy tickets, in the hope of striking lucky.
The states of Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Alaska, Hawaii, Wyoming, Utah and Nevada do not participate in the draw.
However, such has been the hype over the lottery that some residents of the states not taking part had crossed state lines to pick up a ticket.
The previous largest Mega Millions jackpot was $390m in 2007, which was split between two ticket holders in Georgia and New Jersey.
About half the lottery money goes back to ticket holders in the form of winnings, 35 per cent to state governments and 15 per cent to retailer commissions and lottery operating expenses.
No matter who wins the jackpot, one certain winner is the US Internal Revenue Service. America’s tax-collecting agency subjects lottery winnings of more than $5,000 to a 25 per cent federal withholding tax.