LOS ANGELES (AFP) - Three winning tickets shared a US$1.6 billion (S$2.3 billion) bonanza in the US Powerball lottery on Wednesday, after millions of people tuned in to see the fate of the world-record jackpot live on TV.
The winning numbers were 4, 8, 19, 27 and 34, with a 10 as the so-called Powerball number.
Lottery fever gripped the United States, with people forming long lines outside stores to buy tickets and then frantically checking their US$2 slips to see if they had hit the mammoth jackpot.
“It’s official! There were 3 jackpot-winning tickets in tonight’s Powerball draw: California, Florida & Tennessee,” California Lottery tweeted.
Local television showed swarms of people, many cheering and chanting, descending on the Los Angeles convenience store where the California ticket was sold.
The jackpot, which had stood at US$1.5 billion for much of the day, eventually crept up to nearly US$1.59 billion, a record in the US lottery industry.
The three winners will rake in an eye-watering US$528.8 million each, NBC News said, although the taxman will soon come calling.
The odds of winning were at least one in 292 million.
There was a windfall too for Balbir Atwal, owner of a 7-Eleven franchise in Chino Hills, a Los Angeles suburb, who will pocket a US$1 million bonus for selling a winning ticket.
“I didn’t expect this big crowd but my Chino Hills customers love me, and I love them,” he told CNN, grinning broadly.
Despite the miniscule chances of hitting the jackpot, shops all over the United States did a roaring trade in frenzied last-minute ticket sales in the final hours before the live draw.
Office workers dashed out between meetings to buy tickets, fantasising about what they would do with the winnings, and commuters in New York joked about scooping the jackpot to save them from the deep freeze of winter.
For days, the talk of the nation, from coast to coast, and even from Canada to Mexico, was: will someone finally win the first Powerball in two months and, if you were to win, how would you spend such a whopping jackpot?
“I’m not a regular, but why not? Like the commercial says, ‘Hey, you never know,’” said Nick Friedberg, a carpenter and father of two drinking coffee on a bitterly cold street in Manhattan.
“Non-stop, everyone’s talking about it,” he said, running through a list of things he would like to buy.
“Do the world, that’s for sure.
“I’d love to go to Europe, never been. There are a lot of stuff over there I’d like to see, Italy and all that history. I like all that stuff,” he told AFP.
Lottery executives say ticket sales reached record levels, generating more than US$1 million an hour in Texas alone in the final build-up to the draw.
Wednesday’s jackpot started at US$40 million on Nov 7 and was the result of 20 draws with no overall winner.
“Sales are doing exponentially more than we’ve ever done before,” Gary Grief, chair of the Powerball game group, told AFP on Tuesday. “I’m hearing anecdotally and through news outlets, millions of people who have never played
Powerball before are indeed purchasing a ticket.”
It was a bonanza of sorts for retailers too, particularly those in US states bordering the handful that do not participate in the game.
The lottery had anticipated that 85 per cent of all possible combinations would be wagered on so there was an 85 per cent likelihood of a jackpot winner on Wednesday night.
The previous US jackpot record of US$656 million, on March 30, 2012, was scooped up by three winners from North Carolina, Puerto Rico and Texas.
The world’s richest lottery is Spain’s annual Christmas “El Gordo,” which in 2015 handed out 2.2 billion euros (S$3.4 billion) but which capped individual wins at 400,000 euros and handed out thousands of smaller prizes.