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3 win frenzied Mega Millions lottery

Posted on: 5:45 am, March 31, 2012, by , updated on: 08:22am, April 1, 2012

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BALTIMORE (CNN) — Would you rather have $1 to spend, or $1.49 billion?

For a trio of people, all it took was a dollar to cash in and reap the rewards of Friday’s record-setting Mega Millions jackpot. By picking the same winning numbers — 2, 4, 23, 38, 46 with a Mega Ball of 23 — they earned an equal share of the $656 million jackpot, which amounts to about $218 million each, before taxes, under the annuity option.

Lottery players dished out a cumulative $1,491,082,267 since the game’s last big winner emerged in late January. Except for a few smaller payouts, all that worked out to next to nothing.

“Oh Mega Millions, why do you shun me?” a Twitter user mused on the social networking site, echoing the angst felt by many nationwide as it dawned on them that they were among the losers.

“Dear news updates on my phone, stop rubbing it in that I didn’t win the mega millions!!!” said another.

In fact, nearly as many dollars were spent on tickets Friday alone than ended up being given away. Kelly Cripe, a spokeswoman for Texas state lottery that is currently overseeing Mega Millions, said the day’s sales in the 42 states plus the District of Columbia and the Virgin Islands, where the game is played, added up to $651,915,940.

While lotteries are nothing new in the United States and beyond, the frenzy leading up to Friday night’s drawing — much like the jackpot itself, which was the largest pool potentially for any single winner — was unprecedented.

People stood in long lines at convenience stores, dreaming of what they’d buy, how they’d quit their jobs and how their lives would change with the help of Lady Luck.

It ended up being a boon to many state coffers — who reap some of the money from lottery sales — not to mention those selling the tickets.

At Manhattan Tobacco, a New York convenience store, cashier Alex Shanahe said that sales had tripled.

“Everybody wants to win the Mega Millions,” Shanahe said before the drawing.

Many came convinced that they could beat the roughly 176 million-to-one jobs and take home the prize. But only three did.

They included a person who, around 7:15 p.m. Friday night, came to a 7-Eleven store in Baltimore, Maryland, and paid $1 for a “quick pick” of one line of numbers — which ended up exactly matching those pulled less than four hours later.

It’s not know if the identity of that person will ever be known, as Maryland Lottery Director Stephen Martino noted that the state does not require its jackpot recipients to do publicity, as some other states do.

Winners can also remain anonymous in Kansas, that state’s lottery director Dennis Wilson said.

Security officials know the precise location where the ticket was sold, but that information hadn’t been released — even to Wilson. The state lottery has only said the winning ticket came from somewhere in northeastern Kansas.

And the town of Red Bud, Illinois, located about 35 miles south of St. Louis, was buzzing Saturday with news that one of its own bought a ticket at a Moto Mart.

“We’re having a great time,” the store manager, Denise Metzger, told CNN affiliate WGN. “The people in town are having a good time trying to speculate who it is or hoping it’s still them. The atmosphere has just been sensational.”

While no one has yet stepped forward to claim the prize, Wilson had some advice for the winner or winners: Sign the back of the ticket. Put it someplace very safe. And talk to a lawyer before coming in for what will be a life-changing experience.

While only three tickets hit the big jackpot, at least 42 matched five of six numbers — 29 in California, 12 in Illinois and one in Kansas, according to lottery officials.

California Lottery Commission spokesman Alex Traverso said the payout on those tickets will be about $125,000 to $130,000.

Still, that’s practically petty cash compared to the rewards reaped by the three still anonymous jackpot winners.

Psychologist Scott Bea said if any one of them is a poor money manager and has been unhappy in life before winning, that’s likely to continue.

“It solves one problem, but it creates a half-billion others,” he said. “You have about no chance at winning this, but it really gets people excited.”

CNN’s Greg Morrison, Mary Snow, Chris Dignam, Devon Sayers and Athena Jones in Baltimore contributed to this report.

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