The jackpot was the nation's third-largest lottery prize. It grew so large because no one had matched the game’s six selected numbers since April 15. That’s 29 consecutive draws without a jackpot winner.
The $1.28 billion prize is for winners who choose the annuity option, paid annually over 29 years. Most winners opt for the cash option, which for Friday night’s drawing was an estimated $747.2 million.
The odds of winning the jackpot are 1 in 302.5 million.
According to the Illinois Lottery, the store that sold the ticket is a pretty big winner, too; it will receive half a million dollars just for selling the ticket. A clerk at the Speedway store who answered the phone but declined to give his name, said the store has not been officially notified officially that it sold the winning ticket and that he learned about it from reporters calling for comment.
In addition to Georgia and Illinois, Mega Millions is played in 43 other states as well as Washington, D.C., and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The game is coordinated by state lotteries.
Illinois is among the states where winners of more than $250,000 can choose to not reveal their names and Camelot Illinois spokeswoman Emilia Mazur said the vast majority of those winners do just that.
Even lottery officials may not know for a while who won because winners don't have to come forward straight away. And the winning ticket may have been bought by a group of people.
“We won’t know whether it’s an individual or its a lottery pool until the winner comes forward to claim their prize,” National Mega Millions spokeswoman Danielle Frizzi-Babb said.
Emily Irwin, managing director, Advice & Planning, at Wells Fargo’s Wealth & Investment Management, said Friday that the winner should consider keeping a low profile and resist going on an eyebrow-raising spending spree that everyone knows the winner cannot afford.
“This is not the time to start calling everybody you know, saying, ‘Hey, I have big secret. Can you keep it?’” Irwin said.
This is necessary to avoid being inundated with requests for money.
“There are scammers and others who follow big winners,” she said, admitting that sudden wealth can put a lottery winner in physical danger.
“Privacy equals safety,” she said.
One thing the winner must do immediately is sign the ticket. That's because if the ticket hasn't been signed then it really isn't yours. If the winner loses an unsigned ticket and another person finds it and signs it, the ticket now belongs to them.
Irwin suggests a step further to survive a legal battle over ownership.
“Take a Polaroid of you holding it and (put) it in a safe deposit box or somewhere else safe,” she said.
Pratik Patel, the head of Family Wealth Strategies at BMO Family Office in Chicago, said the winner should work with a financial planner to map out their future.
“I would run a Monte Carlo market simulation,” Patel said, explaining that this is an analysis of what a winner’s annual income might be and what the proceeds from various investments might be. “What you’re doing is using analytics to inform your spending.”
Frizzi-Babb agrees that talking to a financial planner is a good idea.
“I would suggest that you do that before you even set foot in a lottery office,” the national lottery spokeswoman said.
There is also a question nobody wants to answer at that particular time: What happens to the money when you die?
Irwin said don't leave this unanswered; you must take action to ensure the bulk of your estate goes to your beneficiaries rather than the government.
“You need a manager who specializes in this and understands this world,” said Patel. “Someone making $60,000 a year might need a certain type of professional manager and they may want to switch to someone who does ultra wealth.”
Whatever the winner does, it is important to do it slowly.
“You can absolutely indulge but let’s be smart about it,” Patel said. “It’s a lot of money but until you figure out what you can afford, there are still limitations.”
For example, he said, consider chartering a private jet before diving in and buying one.
“You may be interested in owning your favorite basketball team,” he warned, “but maybe that isn’t a good idea if it uses up all your money.”