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

By Jason Hanna and Chuck Johnston CNN | 12/18/2013, 5:49 p.m.
The Atlanta store where a winning Mega Millions ticket was sold is pictured the day after the lottery drawing, Wednesday, December 18, 2013. CNN photo.

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's half of the cash option comes to $173 million, before taxes, officials said.

Curry bought her winning ticket in Atlanta at a Gateway Newstand in the lobby of an office building near the city's Buckhead community; the other ticket was sold in San Jose, California, lottery officials said.

"(Curry) had the radio on, and the announcer was talking about the Mega ball, which was seven," Alford said. So Curry called her daughter and "between tears of joys and laughter," the daughter relayed to her mother that she'd won, the lottery president said.

Curry told Alford, "I was in a state if disbelief. I still didn't believe it when my daughter told me," Alford said.

Alford said she suspects Curry called her boss to say she wouldn't be coming in to work because Curry met with lottery officials between 11 a.m. and noon.

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

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., lottery officials said.

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.