What could top winning more than $1 billion in the Mega Millions jackpot? How about learning that the value of the prize went up $57 million overnight?
A single winning ticket was sold at a Speedway gas station in Des Plaines, Ill., for Friday night’s Mega Millions jackpot, according to lottery officials. That ticket, based on actual sales, is now worth $1.337 billion, the lottery said, up from $1.28 billion from the night of the drawing.
It may never be known who bought the jackpot ticket, or whether it was purchased by a single person or a group. Illinois state law allows big winners to keep their names and addresses confidential in most cases.
“We have not heard from the winner yet,” said the director of the Illinois Lottery, Harold Mays. “We don’t know whether or not they’re aware they’ve won this incredible prize. So we’re telling all of our players — check your tickets.”
In addition to that golden ticket, Mega Millions also announced Saturday that there were more than 14 million other winning tickets sold in more than a dozen states, with prizes as high as $2 million or as little as $4.
Among those were 20 tickets that won the lottery’s second-tier prize, $1 million, by matching five white balls in the drawing. Six more won $2 million by paying for the optional Megaplier number, which increases the prize money. Those were sold in Florida, Arkansas, Iowa and Pennsylvania.
The odds of winning the jackpot were long, one in 303 million.
In the highly unlikely event that luck, fate or prayer made you a winner, you will face major life decisions as well as some practical questions: Should you stay anonymous? Is it best to take the lump sum or annual payouts? Do you need a lawyer?
How did the jackpot get so big?
The jackpot swelled because no one had matched the five numbers and Mega Ball in any of the previous 29 drawings, held every Tuesday and Friday, since a winning ticket on April 15 in Tennessee. That brought us to this $1.34 billion moment.
Forty-five states, as well as Washington, D.C., and the Virgin Islands, participate in the Mega Millions lottery. Nevada, Utah, Alabama, Alaska and Hawaii do not, but residents of those states can still purchase tickets elsewhere and then travel to collect a prize.
Excitement built as the jackpot grew. Executives at Raising Cane’s, a chicken-wing restaurant with locations around the United States, purchased one ticket for each of their 50,000 employees for the $830 million drawing on Tuesday. It took a gas station eight hours to print the tickets, but the company remained undeterred, and tried again on Friday.
“We are doubling down,” AJ Kumaran, a co-chief executive of the company, said in an interview with LiveNOW from FOX on Thursday. “What’s another two bucks per person?”
It was not immediately known if any of those tickets won anything.
Did this set a record?
Not quite. It was the second-largest jackpot for this lottery, edged out by the $1.537 billion winning ticket in South Carolina on Oct. 23, 2018. Its winner remains unknown.
The competing multistate Powerball lottery had a world-record jackpot for the January 2016 drawing for $1.586 billion that was shared by winners in California, Florida and Tennessee.
The last time a Mega Millions jackpot broke the billion-dollar threshold was on Jan. 22, 2021, when the winning ticket was sold in Michigan, netting $1.050 billion.
Can a winner stay anonymous?
Each state that participates in Mega Millions oversees the lottery operations within its jurisdiction, including sales, retailers, taxes owed and other financial liabilities. The laws, including whether the names of winners are required to be announced, differ among states.
In Illinois, winners of $250,000 or more can request to keep their name and residence anonymous when they claim their earnings. However, the information may still have to be revealed if a public records request is submitted or the Illinois Lottery is legally mandated to do so, the agency writes in its handbook.
Marie Kilbane of the Ohio Lottery said that in her state, this includes whether a winner owes child support. “Internally, we do check whoever that person is,” she said. “With all our winners.”
Ohio is one of at least seven states that allow winners, who might be wary of fraud or of becoming targets of crime, to hide their identities. Others include Delaware, Maryland, Kansas, North Dakota and South Carolina. States differ in what conditions they allow winners to remain anonymous, or whether they can collect in the name of a trust, she said.
In Texas, a winner of $1 million or more can remain anonymous. In Arizona, winners of $100,000 or more can choose anonymity, but their city and county of residence are not confidential. In California, the names of winners are part of the public record. Some states, like Michigan, do not allow a trust for multistate lotteries such as Mega Millions or Powerball.
Not all lottery winners are required to appear at a news conference with a broad grin, holding a giant fake check. Under its open records law, Wisconsin’s lottery releases the name and city of the winner on request. Any other information, including news media interviews, is up to the winner.
So you just won the lottery. Now what?
You don’t need our advice about yachts, private islands and luxury cars, but experts say a winner should get help from a reputable lawyer, financial adviser or accountant. Do your research first.
Tax advice is key. Friday’s jackpot winner could take $780.5 million in a lump sum or choose to take the $1.337 billion payable in annual installments over 30 years. The federal government will take 24 percent off the top, and you may also owe state taxes. Either choice will catapult you into the top federal income tax bracket, currently 37 percent and scheduled to rise in the future, as Kiplinger noted in this guide for lottery dreamers.
Before hiring a fiduciary or other financial adviser, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau suggests checking the adviser’s background by asking for references, checking the status of any licenses, and finding information about professional histories. Those resources are online.
The Federal Trade Commission advises consumers to find a lawyer who has specialized in an area that is relevant to their needs, which could involve tax, trusts or estates in the case of lottery winners, and getting recommendations from family, friends, co-workers or community groups. It advises checking with state and local bar associations before retaining a lawyer.
A cautionary tale: In 2019, the winner of the record jackpot in South Carolina retained a man named Jason Kurland, who marketed himself as a “lottery lawyer.” On Tuesday, a jury in New York found him guilty of a scheme to defraud lottery winners that caused losses of more than $100 million, prosecutors said.
You should also brace yourself for the possibility that long-lost relatives and college roommates will suddenly knock on your door or slide into your mentions on social media.
The Virginia Lottery seemed to suggest as much on Friday on its Facebook page, where it shared a message from a man who announced, “Before I win this 1 billion in Mega Millions I already know all my cousins.”
“Helpful words to share with all your friends today,” the state lottery said.
McKenna Oxenden contributed reporting.