By David Beasley
ATLANTA (Reuters) - Three lucky ticket-holders in Illinois, Kansas and Maryland will share the largest lottery jackpot in U.S. history of $656 million, after about 1.5 billion $1 tickets were sold, lottery officials said on Saturday.
At least two of the winners' tickets were "quick picks" - meaning all six numbers of the Mega Millions lottery computer picked the winning numbers announced at the drawing Friday night in Atlanta: 2-4-23-38-46 and Mega Ball 23.
Lottery officials said the lucky tickets were purchased at a 7-Eleven store in Milford Mill, Maryland, near Baltimore, and the Motomart convenience store in the southern Illinois farming town of Red Bud. Kansas has not released details yet of the winning ticket.
A pre-dawn call alerted Motomart manager Denise Metzger to news from lottery officials that a winning ticket was sold at her store in the tiny farming community of Red Bud, with less than 4,000 residents, about 30 miles 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.
Residents swarmed the store within hours of the announcement to check their tickets, although no winner has yet emerged, she said.
"I think everyone in town has been here already," she joked.
Though the winner - who has not yet contacted Illinois lottery officials - may want to remain anonymous, in Illinois the state is required to eventually list his or her identity in public records.
Winners could receive either a one-time payment of their share or take it in 26 annual installment payments.
The three tickets 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.
"Each of the winners gets $105.1 million in cash after taxes roughly, but who cares about pennies at this point?" said Carole Everett, spokeswoman for the Maryland Lottery.
SINGLE QUICK PICK WINS
The winning Maryland ticket was a single quick pick ticket sold at about 7:15 p.m. on Friday at the 7-Eleven franchise in Milford Mill, Everett said.
"They are shocked they are getting the $100,000 bonus," Everett said of Ethiopian immigrants Abera and Mimi Tessema, who have owned the 7-Eleven for 10 years and learned they would get a winning seller's bonus.
In addition to the three jackpot winners, there were three tickets that matched the Mega Ball number to win $1 million each and 158 tickets that picked five of the six chosen numbers to win $250,000 each, said Kelly Cripe, spokeswoman for the Texas Lottery, which oversaw the Mega Millions game.
Kansas lottery officials were not releasing the exact location where the ticket was sold except to say that it was in the most populated northeast part of the state.
The jackpot kept rising during Friday before the drawing as millions of players tried their luck, buying about 1.5 billion tickets and pushing the figure to $656 million, lottery officials said.
The previous largest Mega Millions jackpot was $390 million in 2007, which was split between two ticket holders in Georgia and New Jersey.
About half the lottery money goes back to ticket holders in the form of winnings, 35 percent to state governments and 15 percent to retailer commissions and lottery operating expenses.
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.
(Additional reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles, Barbara Goldberg in New York, Teresa Carson in Portland, Keith Coffman in Denver and Laura Zuckerman in Idaho; Editing by Greg McCune and Philip Barbara)