Two tickets to split $636M Mega Millions jackpot

5:50 AM, Dec 18, 2013   |    comments
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By Gary Strauss, Jolie Lee, John Bacon, and William Cummings

At a newsstand in the affluent Buckhead area of Atlanta, shop owner Young Soolee grinned as she arrived to work Wednesday morning.

One of the two winning tickets in Tuesday night's $636 million Mega Millions jackpot was sold in her shop. The other was sold at a gift shop in San Jose, Calif., where owner Thuy Nguyen was equally thrilled.

Not just for their customers. The shop owners each will receive about $1 million for selling the winning tickets.

"The lottery called me and let me know... Whoa!" Nguyen told the San Jose Mercury News. "I am so happy, I feel good."

The winners will be sharing the second-largest lottery jackpot of all time.

"For us, the main thing we'd like to get across is the level of excitement we saw all across California," California Lottery spokesman AlexTraverso told the Associated Press. "At one point, we were selling about 25,000 tickets per minute."

"It's been an amazing experience. It's unbelievable," he said.

The odds of winning were about 1 in 259 million.

Tuesday's jackpot had rolled over 21 straight drawings since Oct. 4, worth a lump, sum, pre-tax payout worth $314.2 million. If there had been no winner, the next jackpot could have surged past $825 million, eviscerating the $656 million record jackpot split by three winners in March 2012.

The winning numbers were 8, 20, 14, 17, 39 and 7.

Ticket sales – the topic of TV, radio, social media and burgeoning office pools – surged in the hours leading up to the drawing, even though up to 75% of the possible number combinations were expected to be picked.

"Even though the odds are against you, it's just the excitement of, 'Hey, I might wake up one day and be a millionaire,' " says Chris Scales, 31, of Nashville. The hot dog vendor says he earns about $35,000 a year "if I really hustle."

The incredibly remote odds don't really sink in for people, says George Loewenstein, a professor of economics and psychology at Carnegie Mellon University who has researched the motives of lottery ticket buyers."People don't really understand probabilities at all," he says. "Once you have a bunch of zeroes, it doesn't matter how many you have – one in 10,000, one in a million or one in a billion. ... People do understand the meaning of the word 'largest.' They overreact to one dimension and underreact to the other."

Tuesday's drawing aside, Mega Millions jackpots are likely to continue swelling after lottery officials boosted their potential payouts.

Originally, customers chose five numbers from 1-56 and one number from 1-46. The new structure has customers choosing five numbers from 1-75 and one number from 1-15. That sliced the odds of winning from 1 in 176 million to 1 in 259 million.

Longtime lottery watcher Gail Howard says that with the odds of hitting the jackpot so small, ticket buyers should buy no more than one.

"Your odds are not going to improve that much if you buy 1 ticket or 1,000,'' says Howard, author of Lottery Master Guide. "I also think you should pick your own numbers rather than let a (point of sale) computer do it."

The current jackpot started at $12 million Oct. 4. By last week, it was up to $425 million, then $586 million on Monday before being raised to $636 million Tuesday morning.

The jackpot resets to $15 million for the next drawing, which is on Friday night.

Contributing: The Associated Press

"I am so happy, I feel good," Nguyen told the Mercury News after learning his store had sold the winning ticket.

"I am so happy, I feel good," Nguyen told the Mercury News after learning his store had sold the winning ticket.

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