The Greenville News
Published 7:47 PM EDT Oct 24, 2018
GREENVILLE, S.C. – C.J. Patel's phone rang the first time at 5 a.m. EDT Wednesday with the news that his store on a rural crossroads in South Carolina had sold the most unlikely lottery ticket in history.
The prize was a staggering $1.537 billion.
"I can't even count that number," Patel said six hours later, surrounded by media and well-wishers at his store, the KC Mart #7 in Simpsonville near Greenville. Outside, a couple of South Carolina Education Lottery officials hung up a banner that read "Luck Struck Here!"
That one person won the jackpot was clear early Wednesday morning. And though lottery officials announced by 11 a.m. that this person had bought the ticket at Patel's store, the winner's identity remained unknown even to those officials late Wednesday.
The ticket buyer has 180 days to step forward, said Tony Cooper, the state lottery's chief operating officer, and that person can choose thereafter to keep his or her name private.
More: There's a winner! Ticket sold for $1.5 billion Mega Millions jackpot in South Carolina
Stores that sell the winning lottery tickets typically receive 1 percent of the proceeds, but those are capped at $50,000.
"Too bad for me," Patel said laughing, adding that he hopes all the attention will bring his store more business.
After taxes, Patel will have about $30,000, which he said he will share with his four employees.
Patel, born in India, has owned convenience stores around Simpsonville for about 20 years. He first came to the United States in 1996. Before marrying and starting a family with his wife, pharmacist Jayshree Patel, he said he slept in the back of his first store in Simpsonville.
"This is the land of opportunity," Patel said. "We work hard for our kids."
Regular customers streamed into Patel's store Wednesday to congratulate him and his employees.
Taylor Sloan, who lives about 2 miles away, said he had to see it to believe the news that Patel's store had sold the ticket.
“You think maybe there’s a mistake or something, but there’s not.” Sloan held an energy drink and Rice Krispie treats in his hand. “These are just my excuse for coming by."
Cynthia Eldridge chatted with Jee Patel, one of the KC Mart workers, trying to figure out who had bought the winning ticket. Some locals thought maybe the winner works at a nearby transmission plant, she said.
"We always come here," Eldridge said. "I had to get some gas and wanted to congratulate them."
Patel said Wednesday afternoon that he hadn't yet had a chance to share the news with his three school-aged sons. He was sworn to secrecy until the official 11 a.m. announcement.
Rumors swirled in the intervening hours. A Circle K in Columbia had previously told The Greenville News on Wednesday morning that their store had sold the winning ticket, and other store owners also thought theirs might be the lucky spots.
The lottery win is also good news for the state of South Carolina: Income taxes off the prize money will amount to about $60 million, officials said. This is on top of about $10 million in ticket-sale proceeds that will fund education programs.
The winning numbers were 5, 28, 62, 65, 70 and Mega Ball 5.
The public may never know who claims the jackpot. South Carolina is one of eight states where winners can remain anonymous. The others are Delaware, Georgia, Kansas, Maryland, North Dakota, Ohio and Texas.
"I have no clue," Patel said when asked if he knew who bought the winning ticket. "We had a lot of customers yesterday, so I have no idea,”
A look at the 10 largest U.S. jackpots that have been won and the states where the winning tickets were sold:
1. $1.586 billion, Powerball, Jan. 13, 2016 (three tickets, from California, Florida, Tennessee)
2. $1.537 billion, Mega Millions, Oct. 23, 2018 (one ticket, South Carolina)
3. $758.7 million, Powerball, Aug. 23, 2017 (one ticket, from Massachusetts)
4. $656 million, Mega Millions, March 30, 2012 (three tickets, from Kansas, Illinois and Maryland)
5. $648 million, Mega Millions, Dec. 17, 2013 (two tickets, from California and Georgia)
6. $590.5 million, Powerball, May 18, 2013 (one ticket, from Florida)
7. $587.5 million, Powerball, Nov. 28, 2012 (two tickets, from Arizona and Missouri)
8. $564.1 million, Powerball, Feb. 11, 2015 (three tickets, from North Carolina, Puerto Rico and Texas)
9. $559.7 million, Powerball, Jan. 6, 2018 (one ticket, New Hampshire)
10. $543 million, Mega Millions, July 24, 2018 (one ticket, California)
The Associated Press contributed to this report.