Merry Christmas! Two winning tickets announced in $800m US lottery

A woman fills out a stack of her lottery picks at Lichines Liquor & Deli in the Land Park, California area on Tuesday, Dec 17, 2013. Lottery stubs for the second richest pot in American lottery history were sold in San Jose, California
A woman fills out a stack of her lottery picks at Lichines Liquor & Deli in the Land Park, California area on Tuesday, Dec 17, 2013. Lottery stubs for the second richest pot in American lottery history were sold in San Jose, California at a gift shop and at a newsstand in Atlanta, Georgia, CBS news reported, quoting lottery officials after the Tuesday night draw. -- PHOTO: AP

WASHINGTON (AFP) - Who needs Santa Claus when you hold one of two winning tickets announced in the US$636 million (S$800 million) Mega Millions lottery in the United States? The life-changing stubs for the second richest pot in American lottery history were sold in San Jose, California at a gift shop and at a newsstand in Atlanta, Georgia, CBS news reported, quoting lottery officials after the Tuesday night draw.

The jackpot will be split. The names of the winners were not immediately announced. Winners in this sweepstake can opt between a one-time lump sum payment or one smaller payment followed by others over the course of 29 years.

Had there been a single winner in Tuesday's draw the one time cash option was estimated at US$341 million - before taxes.

The jackpot reached its dizzying sum after frantic Americans in 43 participating states, Washington D.C., and the US Virgin Islands spent days snapping up US$1 tickets.

Tuesday's combination of six winning numbers was: 8, 14, 17, 20, 39 and 7, the latter being known as the Mega Ball.

The record jackpot was US$656 million in March yesterday. It was split among ticket holders in Illinois, Kansas and Maryland.

But this draw was the first since a rule change in October designed to make it harder to win and thus fatten the jackpot.

Previously, players picked five numbers from one to 56 plus a number from one to 46.

Under the new rules, players pick five numbers from one to 75 plus a number from one to 15 - shifting the odds of winning from one in 176 million to one in 259 million.

By comparison, the odds of being struck by lightning in the United States in one's lifetime is one in 10,000, according to the National Weather Service.