The winners of the $1.34 billion Mega Millions lottery ticket, purchased at a suburban Chicago gas station, had just days left to decide how they wanted to claim their prize when they came forward. And on Wednesday, they finally did.
The Illinois Lottery announced early Wednesday morning that the massive jackpot was claimed with less than a week left before a critical deadline in the state.
"The prize was shared by two individuals, who agreed to split the prize if won – and they stayed true to that word," the lottery said in a release. "The winners wish to remain anonymous, and the Illinois Lottery is unable to share any information about the winners except to say that they must be absolutely 'over the moon' with their Mega Millions win."
The Illinois Lottery allows winners to request anonymity if the prize is greater than $250,000, which certainly applies in this case.
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The winning ticket for the massive July 29 jackpot was purchased at a gas station in suburban Des Plaines, and while the winner still had time to claim the prize, they had just days left to determine how they receive their money - a decision they have now made.
Under the rules, the winner had 12 months from the date of the draw to claim their winnings, but according to the Illinois Lottery's Winner's Handbook, "Lotto, Mega Millions and Powerball winners have 60 days after the date of the drawing to choose the cash option or annual payments."
The $1.337 billion prize would be paid annually over 29 years if the winner picks the annuity option. If the winner opts for cash, they would receive an estimated $780.5 million.
"Failure to choose a payment option within the 60-day time period will automatically result in annuity payments," the handbook states.
As of Sept. 21, the winner had less than a week to decide.
According to the Illinois Lottery, the winners spent the last few weeks working with legal and financial advisors and opted to take the lump sum payment.
“These winners are now in the enviable position of deciding what to do with their newfound fortune,” Illinois Lottery Director Harold Mays said in a statement. “They stopped into the Speedway in Des Plaines and grabbed a Mega Millions
ticket while they were there. That turned out to be an absolutely life changing decision when a $3 line of Mega Millions with Megaplier turned into a $1.34 billion jackpot win.”
Speedway, the corporate gas station chain perched at 885 E. Touhy Ave., will receive a half-million dollar bonus for selling the winning ticket.
The move marks the end of weeks-long speculation over what might happen to the massive prize and whether it would go unclaimed.
If no one claimed the prize within the allotted 12-month timeframe set in Illinois, each state that participated in the game would have received all the money it contributed to the unclaimed jackpot back. According to the Illinois Lottery, each state can use its unclaimed lottery prizes for a variety purposes.
“I’ve been working for the Illinois Lottery for over five years and this is by far the largest prize I’ve ever had to process. When we met with the winners’ lawyers there was a real buzz of excitement in the room,” said Illinois Lottery Claims Manager Luis Rodriguez. “It’s a surreal feeling giving away this amount of money and knowing what a huge impact this is going to make on the winners’ lives, and for others close to them as well. It was an incredible feeling just to be part of that process – so I can only imagine how the winners themselves are feeling."