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, just shy of the all-time world record, 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.
South Carolina Education Lottery spokesman Tony Cooper said at a Wednesday afternoon news conference that the agency doesn't know the identity of the winner or whether the winning ticket belongs to a group of people. But Cooper urged the winning ticket-holder to "take a deep breathe, sign the ticket, place it in a safe location" and find a trusted financial advisor.
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, Cooper said.
The owner of KC Mart, CJ Patel, will also receive $50,000 for selling the winning ticket. Patel, who told reporters Wednesday he has owned the store for about 3 1/2 years, said he plans on "doing some good" with the money and hopes the winner does also.
"It's good attention [for my store], and it's good for the community," Patel said. "Hopefully [the winner] spends the money locally and does some good for the community."
Cooper called the single-ticket win a big score for South Carolina, which will receive about $50 to $60 million in tax revenue, and the state's education system, which will receive $10 million to $15 million.
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"The only way I can describe it — I'm going to make up a word here — is pandemonius jollification," Cooper said.
The earlier Mega Millions estimate of $1.6 billion would have been a world record for lotteries, but actual sales came in just below the $1.586 billion Powerball jackpot prize shared by winners in California, Florida and Tennessee in January of 2016.
The ticket sold Tuesday is worth about $877.8 million in a lump-sum cash payment, which most winners choose to take.
"The final total was less than the $1.6 billion estimate," said 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 percent 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."
A portion of the prize money will go to the retailer; the exact amount is determined by each state, Gentry said.
The biggest Mega Millions jackpot winner prior to this was a $656 million ticket sold back in 2012, she 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. No details on where the winning ticket was sold were immediately available. But the lucky player overcame miserable odds: The chance of matching all six numbers and winning the top prize is 1 in 302.5 million.
There were 36 second-prize tickets sold in 17 states and Washington, D.C., lottery officials said.
In addition to the jackpot-winning ticket, there were 15,750,013 winning tickets total on Tuesday. You can check the prize amounts for matching numbers on your ticket here.
Mega Millions is played in 44 states as well as Washington, D.C., and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
It will likely be days or even weeks before a winner steps forward to claim the prize.
Lottery officials and financial managers encourage people to take time to map out a strategy for investing their hundreds of millions of dollars, and winners must deal with security concerns befitting someone who suddenly is immensely wealthy.
The Mega Millions jackpot grew so large because it had been nearly three months since a player had matched all six numbers and won the top prize. The last time that happened was 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.
The next Mega Millions jackpot resets to $40 million for Friday's drawing.