- Odd News
By Lydia Warren and Ryan Gorman
PUBLISHED: 23:52 EST, 17 December 2013 | UPDATED: 18:05 EST, 18 December 2013
A grandmother from Georgia who bought a last-minute lottery ticket has been revealed as one of the two winners sharing a $648 million Mega Millions jackpot.
Georgia Lottery officials revealed on Wednesday afternoon that Ira Curry, 56, from Stone Mountain near Atlanta, won $173 million. The other winner in California has still not claimed their winnings.
Mrs Curry, an underwriting manager for an insurance firm, bought just one ticket - a last-minute decision - from a newsstand in her office building and played a combination of family birthdays and her family's lucky number, seven.
She only realized she could be the winner when, while driving this morning, she heard the radio DJ say a person in Georgia had won, and that the Mega Ball was number seven.
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Winner! Ira Curry, from Stone Mountain, Georgia, has been revealed as one of the two lottery winners
Moving up! Mrs Curry is pictured with her husband Talmer outside Kensington Palace - and can no doubt look forward to living in similarly lavish homes
She called her daughter, who read through the numbers and told her she had won - and somehow Mrs Curry managed not to veer off the road, Debbie Alford, the Georgia lottery president, said.
'She was just in a state of disbelief,' Alford said.
Her identity was revealed at a Georgia Lottery press conference on Wednesday afternoon but she chose not to attend.
Curry, who is married with at least two children, has selected a single-payment option, which will leave her with about $120 million after federal and state taxes, lottery officials said.
She has not yet revealed what she plans to spend the money on - and is 'she’s gonna take some time and think about it', Alford said.
Joy: Mrs Curry, who is married with children, only thought to check the numbers when she heard about the win on the radio this morning. She was driving and called her daughter to check
Mrs Curry has had her fair share of money worries. Public records show that in 1994 she and her husband Talmer, now 74, filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy which gives individuals three to five years to pay off their debtors. It was discharged in 1999.
The winner of the other ticket, which was sold in San Jose, California, has not yet stepped forward.
They have 180 days to collect the money.
But it emerged earlier today that the store owner who sold the ticket has received $1 million - while the clerk in Georgia will get nothing.
California state lottery rules say a retailer can receive 0.5 per cent of the winning prize or up to $1 million, leaving Thuy Nguyen, the owner of Jenny's Gifts in San Jose, with the hefty bonus.
But over in Atlanta, Young Soo Lee, who runs a newsstand in the Alliance Center in Buckhead that sold the second winning ticket, will receive nothing, in accordance with Georgia law.
Prize: Thuy Nguyen, owner of Jenny's Gifts Shop in San Jose, California, accepts a check from California lottery sales representative Mona Sanders after he sold one of the two winning tickets at his store
Excitement: Thuy Nguyen, owner of Jenny's Gifts Shop in San Jose, California, yelled with joy after learning he was receiving $1 million for selling one of two winning Mega Millions tickets at his store
Mr Nguyen, who bought the business just four months ago, raced to the store after lottery officials called him to tell him about the win. He grinned as he was presented a check there today.
'I feel good! I feel good!' he told NBC this morning after he found out the good news. Come to my store! I cannot sleep tonight! I'm a lucky person!'
Asked what he planned to do with the winnings, he said: 'For my family, a house. And try to invest.'
While the winners have not yet been identified, Mr Nguyen said he sells to the same regular customers so he is hopeful one of his friends has won.
'Mostly my customer here is my friend, that's why,' he said about his excitement. 'Somebody win - I feel good!'
In the Buckhead shopping center in Atlanta, Soo Lee, a Korean immigrant who came to the U.S. in 1980, said she might have sold the ticket to a group of players who pooled their money for tickets.
Celebration: Customers arrive to congratulate the shop owner, who took over just four months ago
Shop: The winner who bought the $318 million ticket from Jenny's has not yet stepped forward
She said that one purchase in the building, which includes a law firm, a bank and a consulting firm, was for 120 tickets, NBC reported.
Soo Lee had initially been told by a reporter that she was going to receive a $1 million bonus as well - but later found out it was not the case.
She said she was a 'little mad' but that she was happy her store had won anyway.
Georgia lottery spokeswoman Tandi Reddick said that Soo Lee, and other store owners, would be getting a six per cent commission on the sales of the $1 tickets.
'Of course, this location now has the distinction of being known as a lucky store, which is exciting news for them,' Reddick added to NBC.
The winning numbers were 8, 14, 17, 20, 39 and the mega ball was 7, and the two winners matched all six numbers. Their $636 million prize is the second largest in U.S. lottery history.
Celebration: Youngsoo Lee, left, is congratulated by customer Wendy Nelson after it emerged her newsstand, Gateway, sold one of the two winning Mega Millions tickets in Atlanta, Georgia
Happy: Soolee initially thought she was getting $1 million - but said she was just happy that her store won
Winning store: The newsstand is inside the Alliance Center office building in Atlanta
Last night's jackpot was the second biggest in U.S. lottery history. Others are:
1. $656 million, Mega Millions, March 30, 2012 (3 tickets from Kansas, Illinois and Maryland)
2. $636 million, Mega Millions, December 17, 2013 (2 tickets from California and Georgia)
3. $590.5 million, Powerball, May 18, 2013 (1 ticket from Florida)
4. $587.5 million, Powerball, Nov. 28, 2012 (2 tickets from Arizona and Missouri)
5. $400 million, Powerball, (drawing scheduled for Wednesday, Aug. 7; jackpot could grow)
6. $390 million, Mega Millions, March 6, 2007 (2 tickets from Georgia and New Jersey)
7. $380 million, Mega Millions, Jan. 4, 2011 (2 tickets from Idaho and Washington)
8. $365 million, Powerball, Feb. 18, 2006 (1 ticket from Nebraska)
9. $363 million, The Big Game, May 9, 2000 (2 tickets from Illinois and Michigan)
10. $340 million, Powerball, Oct. 19, 2005 (1 ticket from Oregon)
California and Georgia both publicly identify winners once they claim their prize. Some other states allow lottery winners to remain anonymous.
California lottery officials announced the location of the winning ticket's purchase shortly after the winning numbers were drawn. The San Jose location was first reported by NBC Bay Area.
ABC News reported that a second winning ticket was sold in Atlanta. WXIA later confirmed the ticket was sold in the Buckhead neighborhood - one of the city's wealthiest.
Other winners who matched fewer numbers are also beginning to emerge.
One $1 million ticket matching five of the numbers was sold at Fullers Liquor & Deli in San Diego's Midway District, while another was sold at Square Bottle Liquor in Chula Vista.
The March 2012 Mega Millions jackpot - the largest in US history - rounded out at $656million and was split across three winners in Kansas, Illinois and Maryland.
Mega Millions changed its rules in October to help increase the jackpots by lowering the odds of winning the top prize.
Instead of picking six numbers between 1 and 56, players can now choose six numbers between 1 and 75. The decrease in probability has increased the amount of rollovers - and propelled jackpots to staggering totals.
That means the chances of winning the jackpot are now about 1 in 259 million.
Who are they? The two winning tickets were drawn in San Jose and Atlanta. Both California and Georgia publicly identify winners once they claim their lottery winnings
And sales have shot up; in Florida, $8,000 worth of tickets were sold every minute from 9 to 10am Tuesday, WFTS reported. Mega Millions tickets cost $1 each.
California Lottery spokesman Alex Traverso said the level of excitement had been unprecedented.
'For us, the main thing we'd like to get across is the level of excitement we saw all across California,' he said. 'At one point, we were selling about 25,000 tickets per minute. It’s been an amazing experience. It’s unbelievable.'
But that didn't stopped aspiring multimillionaires from playing the game.
'Oh I think there's absolutely no way
I am going to win this lottery,' said Tanya Joosten, 39, an educator at
the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee who bought several tickets on
Are you the winner?: If you live in San Jose and bought your ticket at Jenny's Gifts - this might be your lucky day
Anticipation: Customers line up to buy Mega Millions tickets at The Gallery Shop in Washington
Tickets: Chances of winning the jackpot in Mega Millions are now about 1 in 259 million after new rules
'But it's hard for such a small amount of money to not take the chance.'
Annie Pedersen also said she wanted to be part of the action, so she jumped in and bought two tickets at a Milwaukee grocery.
'Everybody is so excited about it so I wanted to get in on some of the excitement, too, by watching,' she said.
The previous odds of winning Mega Millions' top prize were roughly 1 in 176 million, nearly the same as Powerball, which also has seen a surge in large jackpots since its rules were revamped in January 2012.
Mega Millions is played in 43 states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
So what drives people to play Mega Millions, and what makes them think their $1 investment— among the many, many millions — will bring staggering wealth?
'It's the same question as to why do people gamble,' said Stephen Goldbart, author of 'Affluence Intelligence' and co-director of the Money, Meaning & Choices Institute in California.
'It's a desire to improve your life in a way that's driven by fantasy... The bigger the fantasy, the tastier it gets.'
In a piece called 'Lottery-itis!,' Goldbart and co-author Joan DiFuria wrote on their blog last year on the Psychology Today website that in times of economic stress, playing the lottery is a way of coping with financial anxieties and uncertainty.
'We may seek a magic pill to make us feel better,' they wrote. 'Ah yes, buy a lottery ticket. Feel again like you did when you were a child, having hope that a better day will come, that some big thing will happen that will make everything right, set the course on track.'
The Mega Millions jackpot is just $20 million short of the $656 million U.S. record set in a March 2012 drawing.
If no one wins Tuesday night and the jackpot rolls over past the next drawing scheduled Friday, it will reach $1 billion, according to Paula Otto, executive director of the Virginia Lottery and Mega Millions' lead director.
Between 65 and 70 percent of roughly 259 million possible number combinations will be in play when the numbers are drawn, Otto says. For the ticket-buying optimists, that's no deterrent.
'Even though the odds are against you, it's just the excitement of, 'Hey, I might wake up one day and be a millionaire,' says Chris Scales, a 31-year-old hot dog vendor in downtown Nashville, Tenn., who brings in about $35,000 a year 'if I really hustle.'
He usually reserves his lottery playing for jackpots of at least $40 million.
The incredibly remote odds don't really sink in for people, says George Loewenstein, a professor of economics and psychology at Carnegie Mellon University who has researched the motives underlying lottery ticket purchases.
'People don't really understand probabilities at all,' he says. 'Once you have a bunch of zeroes, it doesn't matter how many you have — one in 10,000, one in a million or one in a billion. ... People do understand the meaning of the word 'largest.' They overact to one dimension and underreact to the other.'
They also cling to a more romantic notion: Amazing things happen to others, so why not for me?
'When people are desperately sick, there's always a part of the brain that thinks there will be a miracle cure,' Loewenstein says.
'If you want something to be true, your brain is awfully good at figuring out reasons, magical ones, that there's a good likelihood that it is true. The desire to win does drive a certain kind of frenzied optimism.'
That frenzy can grow during the holiday season, when financial hardships become more glaring and people feel pressure to spend money they don't have to demonstrate their love.
'If you have plenty of money in the bank, you're not likely to feel the need to buy a lottery ticket,' Goldbart explains.
'But if there's something missing financially and emotionally and you're thinking, 'I can't get a raise or I'm not likely to get another job,' you buy a ticket as a psychological compensation plan.'
The staggering size of the Mega Millions jackpot also makes this lottery special, attracting people who want to participate in a social, news-making event, says Jane Risen, an associate professor of behavioral science at the University of Chicago's Booth School of Business.
'The lottery happens every day,' she says, 'but for some people it has to reach almost a cultural threshold before it becomes the thing to think about.'
What develops, she says, is a feeling of 'anticipated regret.' In short, people worry about not playing.
'It's some version of 'What's the harm? I wouldn't want to be the idiot who didn't play the Mega Millions. What if I was the winner?'' Risen says.
'It's a better safe-than-sorry philosophy: 'I'd better buy a lottery ticket just in case I was going to the winner.''
Kathy Malzewski, a 67-year-old retiree from Milwaukee, never buys Mega Million tickets.
But while she was in a grocery store Monday, buying scratch-off tickets as stocking stuffers, she decided on a whim to buy a single ticket because of the enormous jackpot.
What would she do if she won?
'I'd go into a nice retirement community myself, but I'd be generous,' she said softly. 'I'd help Habitat for Humanity, help the homeless, give a lot to charity.'
Malzewski also said she'd travel around the United States. She saw the ocean for the first time in May and recently visited the Grand Canyon. She'd like to go to New York or Florida's Everglades as well.
'Why not?' she said with a smile. 'There are so many places to see.'
She'll know Tuesday night if she has an instant way to finance those dreams.
'I'm not lucky. I never win anything,' she says. 'But I might today. A person always has a little hope.'