The largest lottery jackpot in U.S. history - a whopping $656 million - will be shared by the buyers of three winning Mega Millions tickets in Illinois, Kansas and Maryland - but their identities remained a mystery, lottery officials said on Saturday.
A pre-dawn call alerted Denise Metzger, manager of a Motomart convenience store, to news from lottery officials that her store had sold a winning ticket in the tiny farming community of Red Bud in southern Illinois, with less than 4,000 residents, about 30 miles (48 km) southeast of St. Louis.
"I screamed, I woke my husband up," said Metzger, whose retail outlet will receive $500,000 for selling a winning ticket.
The Mega Millions lottery created a stir across the country, with people rushing to buy the $1 tickets in time for a shot at the humongous jackpot. In all, more than a billion tickets were sold.
At least two of the winners' tickets were "quick picks" - meaning all six numbers of the Mega Millions lottery computer selected the lucky numbers announced at the drawing Friday night in Atlanta: 2-4-23-38-46 and Mega Ball 23.
Lottery officials said winning tickets were purchased at a 7-Eleven store in Milford Mill, Maryland, near Baltimore, and the Motomart convenience store in Red Bud.
Winners could receive either a one-time payment of their share or take it in 26 annual installment payments.
The three tickets each were worth more than $213 million before taxes, if the payout was over 26 years. If taken in a lump sum, the windfall would be about $105.1 million, officials said.
No matter who wins the jackpot, one certain winner is the U.S. Internal Revenue Service. The tax-collecting agency subjects lottery winnings of more than $5,000 to a 25-percent federal withholding tax.