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Stone Mountain woman is Georgia winner of $648 million Mega Millions jackpot

By Jason Hanna and Chuck Johnston, (CNN) — A Stone Mountain woman has won half of the second-largest Mega Millions jackpot in U.S. history and has taken the cash option, which after taxes, will be about $120 million, Georgia Lottery President Debbie Alford said Wednesday.

Ira Curry came to the lottery office with the winning ticket of hand-picked numbers, which were a mix of family birthdays and the lucky number 7. She did not appear at the afternoon lottery announcement in Atlanta.

Alford gave a few details about Curry, saying she is married and had her daughter check online for the winning numbers after a radio announcer mentioned 7 was the Mega ball number.

Two tickets matched the winning numbers in Tuesday night’s $648 million jackpot.

Curry bought her winning ticket in Atlanta; the other ticket was sold in San Jose, California, lottery officials said.

The winning numbers were 8, 14, 17, 20 and 39, with a Megaball of 7. Twenty ticket holders will win $1 million after matching all the numbers except the Megaball.

Strong sales boosted the jackpot to $648 million from previous estimates of $636 million and $586 million, lottery officials said.

That’s tantalizingly close to the U.S. record — a $656 million Mega Millions jackpot split by three winning tickets in March 2012.

This jackpot was so large in part because Mega Millions became tougher to win. The prize rises with each miss, and no one had won it since organizers increased the pool of numbers to choose from — making astronomical odds even longer — in October.

The winning tickets were sold at Jenny’s Gift Shop in a San Jose strip mall and a Gateway Newstand in the lobby of an office building near Atlanta’s Buckhead area, lottery officials said.

In Florida, $8,000 worth of tickets were sold every minute from 9 to 10 a.m. Tuesday, CNN affiliate WFTS reported, citing lottery officials. Mega Millions tickets go for $1 each, though buyers choose to pay an additional $1 for the Megaplier option, which could multiply lesser, non-jackpot winning prizes.

Before the drawing, a lottery player in the Bronx joked Tuesday that the jackpot wouldn’t change his life.

“It would just change my vocabulary. I would say, ‘I quit’ (my job),” he told CNN affiliate News 12 of New York on Tuesday morning in the Bronx’s Hunts Point neighborhood.

At Bunny’s Superette in Manchester, New Hampshire, a clerk told CNN affiliate WMUR that Mega Millions sales were brisk Tuesday — she’d gone through four rolls of ticket paper by noon.

One player there, Armand Lesage, said he’d like to use the jackpot to escape snowy New Hampshire for a warm vacation. But he’d also share with his large family.

“My mother had 19 of us, and that is a big family, and 14 are still living,” he told WMUR.

The chance of winning — never particularly bright — got worse in late October, when Mega Millions increased the drawing’s pool of numbers. The odds of hitting the jackpot, which were 1 in 176 million, are now 1 in 259 million.

You have more than 1,000 times better chance of an asteroid or comet killing you — and that’s using the longest estimated odds for the celestial bodies — according to Tulane University.

“Winning the Mega Millions is akin to getting struck by lightning at the same time you’re being eaten by a shark,” said Todd Northrop, founder of Lotterypost.com.

Previously, lottery players chose five numbers, ranging from 1 to 56. It’s now 1 to 75. But the sixth, gold ball has fewer numbers from which to choose, as the pool decreased from 46 to 15.

Mega Millions tickets are sold in 43 states — all but Alabama, Alaska, Hawaii, Mississippi, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming — plus the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

CNN’s Holly Yan, Chris Friedman, Christine Romans, Pamela Brown, Julie In, Devon Sayers and Eliott C. McLaughlin contributed to this report.

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