Mega Millions winners in Georgia, California to split $648 million

ATLANTA Wed Dec 18, 2013 5:59pm EST

1 of 3. Lottery balls wait to be dropped prior to the lottery drawing for the Mega Millions jackpot, estimated at $636 million, in Atlanta, Georgia December 17, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Tami Chappell

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ATLANTA (Reuters) - The latest Mega Millions jackpot, driven to a near-record $648 million by last-minute sales, will be split between a Georgia woman who played numbers from family birth dates and an unknown winner in California, lottery officials said on Wednesday.

Ira Curry, 56, who bought her ticket at an Atlanta newsstand, claimed her prize at the state's lottery headquarters on Wednesday, choosing to receive her winnings in a lump-sum cash payment of $173.8 million after taxes, lottery officials said.

She otherwise could have opted for a larger annuity sum that would have been paid in installments over 30 years.

"It's unreal," Curry was quoted by lottery officials as saying in a press release announcing her winnings. "It's like I'm still dreaming."

The purchaser of a second winning ticket sold at a gift shop in San Jose, California, has yet to come forward, lottery officials said.

The jackpot, the second biggest in U.S. lottery history, had stood at $636 million until the total was updated after the drawing late on Tuesday.

Young Soo Lee, who owns a Gateway Newsstand in Atlanta's affluent Buckhead area, said she was thrilled to learn from local television news that someone had purchased a winning ticket at her store.

"I'm so happy," said Lee, who came to the United States from Korea in 1980 and bought the newsstand, in an office building on Lenox Road, nine years ago.

Lee said even her customers who did not win were sharing in the excitement.

"Everybody is a hug, a hug, a hug," she said.

The other winning ticket was sold at a retail location called Jennifer's Gift Shop on Tully Road in San Jose, according to Alex Traverso, a California lottery official.

California lottery official Cathy Johnston said the shop was owned by Thuy Nguyen, who, according to the San Jose Mercury News, took over the business four months ago.

Under California's lottery rules, which differ from those in Georgia, Nguyen will receive a $1 million cash bonus for selling the winning ticket, a payment retailers earn as an incentive for participating in the lottery program.

The winning numbers for Tuesday's drawing were: 8, 14, 17, 20, 39 and 7, as posted on the lottery's website, Megamillions.com.

The spending surge put the prize just short of the record U.S. jackpot of $656 million, won in a March 2012 Mega Millions drawing.

Georgia's jackpot winner told lottery officials she chose her numbers based on a combination of family birthdays and her family's lucky number, 7, a lottery spokeswoman said.

When she heard the retail location of where the winning ticket in Atlanta was sold and one of the winning numbers on the radio while driving, she stopped to call her daughter to check the numbers and discovered she had won, lottery officials said.

Curry, who is married, has asked lottery officials not to disclose further information about her or her family for now. She said she is not planning to address the media directly.

As many as 70 percent of Mega Millions tickets are typically bought on the day of the drawing, said Paula Otto, Virginia's lottery director and lead director of the multi-state Mega Millions game.

Ticket buying reached a fever pitch over the weekend, with 20 percent more chances sold than expected, Otto said.

(Additional reporting by Steve Gorman, writing by Steve Gorman and Colleen Jenkins; editing by Gunna Dickson)

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