The past year has been a banner one for the U.S. lottery industry, with six out of the 15 largest jackpots in the history of the game being up for grabs, including two in the top four. From coast to coast, Americans lined up to buy Mega Millions and Powerball tickets by the handful, hoping to become millionaires – and in one case, a billionaire – overnight. Here are the five biggest lottery drawings of 2018 and those who beat the overwhelming odds to win them.
$1.537 billion, Mega Millions, drawn Oct. 23
The second-largest American lottery drawing of all time has a winner in South Carolina, but he or she still has yet to come forward. The winning ticket was sold at a KC Mart convenience store in Simpsonville and was drawn in late October just days before the second entry on this list. The store’s owner, C.J. Patel, told the Greenville News that he hopes the attention brings him more business. South Carolina is one of the few states where winners can remain anonymous and the mystery person has until April 21 of next year (180 days after the drawing) to redeem the winning ticket. If they don’t, the massive jackpot gets redistributed back to the 46 states and jurisdictions that participate in the Mega Millions game.
$687.8 million, Powerball, drawn Oct. 27
Those who missed out on the record-breaking Mega Millions drawing kept the lottery fever going with this huge prize, claimed by two people in New York and Iowa. Robert Bailey, the 67-year-old winner from the Big Apple, told officials that “a family member gave me the numbers over twenty-five years ago and I faithfully play them.” The other winner, 51-year-old Lerynne West of Redfield, Iowa, says her newfound wealth will be spent on a “new car” and a “long vacation – or several”. The since-retired insurance worker is also setting up the Callum Foundation with her family, named in honor of her grandson who lived just a day after being born prematurely. The charitable organization is set to launch next year and will provide grants – some coming from West -- to groups aiming to relieve problems surrounding subjects including “poverty and hunger, education, animal welfare, and veteran affairs.”
$559.7 million, Powerball, drawn Jan. 6
A woman from Merrimack, N.H., rang in the new year with this stunning cash haul – then spent the next two months locked in a court battle to keep her name private. Her lawyers, according to the New York Times, argued that she feared for her safety and was concerned about people coming out of the woodwork to demand a stake in her prize. She ultimately won the case, but a judge ruled that her hometown must be made public. The newspaper says the woman has donated a combined $250,000 of her winnings to Girls Inc. of New Hampshire – a girls empowerment group – and a trio of End 68 Hours of Hunger chapters, which provide meals to schoolchildren to may not get the chance to eat on the weekends.
$543 million, Mega Millions, drawn July 24
Those office lottery pools do result in happy endings, such as this jackpot claimed by a group of 11 financial workers in the San Francisco Bay Area. Roland Reyes publicly claimed the prize on behalf of its members, ranging in age from 21 to 60. He said the decision to start an office pool was a "spur of the moment" act and none of the members involved in it – including his boss – want to quit working. Some of the prize money will go to paying off mortgages, college tuitions’, helping out family members, returning to school and traveling, California lottery officials said.
$533 million, Mega Millions, drawn March 30
Richard Wahl, a 47-year-old from Vernon, N.J., was the sole winner of this jackpot, which holds the record for being the largest one in the history of the Garden State. In an interview with the Associated Press, the now-retired production manager at a food services company revealed that he kept the ticket in a fireproof safe after winning and checked the numbers 15 times. When his mother called and asked if he was the “somebody in New Jersey” who won the prize, Wahl says he initially lied and said “absolutely not”, until he was ready to come forward. The winning numbers were picked by a machine, which is “why we believe it’s God’s plan,” Wahl says, and he plans to use the cash as “life-changing money for family, friends, [and] people in need.” Some of it also may go toward his goal of restoring a 1963 Corvette.