DES PLAINES, Ill. – Michael Ernst was watching the news early Saturday morning when he saw images of his local gas station flash on the screen.
"I got goose bumps," said Ernst, 61. "I was just thinking, oh my god, I bought my ticket there Friday morning."
Ernst said he leapt off the couch, ran to his wallet and checked the lotto ticket.
"It wasn't even close," he said. "It didn't even have one number."
Ernst was among the dozens of customers Monday who stopped by this suburban Chicago Speedway store, part of a popular gas and convenience chain, days after a shopper there pulled the winning numbers for the nearly $1.34 billion Mega Millions jackpot. It's the second-largest in Mega Millions' history and the nation's third-highest lottery prize ever.
The winning numbers were: 13-36-45-57-67, Mega Ball: 14. The unnamed ticketholder beat the 1 in 303 million odds of winning the jackpot.
"We have not heard from the winner yet," Illinois Lottery Director Harold Mays said in a statement Saturday. "We don’t know whether or not they’re aware they’ve won this incredible prize. So we’re telling all of our players – check your tickets."
Mega Millions jackpot: Lucky Illinois ticket wins $1.34B, 2nd largest in game's history
The jackpot had been rolling since April 16 and attracted attention nationwide. The New York Islanders purchased $50,000 worth of tickets. The CEO of Raising Cane’s shelled out $100,000 to buy tickets for employees. And, hours before the drawing, hundreds of people waited in line to buy tickets at a "lucky" liquor store in Hawthorne, California.
By Saturday morning, the line for the lotto machine at the Des Plaines Speedway was so long that it snaked around the store, said Lisa Lepore, 61. Lepore said she works as a bus driver and regularly fuels up at the location, next to O'Hare International Airport.
When she heard the news early Saturday, Lepore wondered if one of her coworkers had become rich overnight, she said.
"I hope that somebody who needs it really wins it because it would be a game-changer for them," she said.
As Lepore spoke, others trickled past the machine, sandwiched between the ice cream freezer on one side and the donut case and beef jerky stand on the other. Some scanned old tickets. Others purchased new ones. The small trash can on the ground overflowed with discarded paper strips and scratch-off cards.
Other customers – many dawning airline uniforms – purchased milkshakes and cigarettes, and employees sold pizza and reloaded coffee machines.
Don Barrett, 64, stopped at the Speedway while getting gas and slipped a bill into the lotto machine.
"I thought I'd try my luck," Barrett said. "I didn't even know it was this location. I just knew it was somewhere in the suburbs."
Keith Wilborn, 50, said he first heard the news when his landlady asked him if he'd won. Wilborn said he works for United Airlines and stops by the Speedway every day for soda and gas.
"It's nice to see it in the area – the money," Wilborn said.
Wilborn said he's purchased a few tickets in the past. But he didn't purchase a ticket Monday.
"I can't see lightning striking twice in one place," he said.
Ernst, a Chicago resident, said he commutes out to the suburb for his job at a local millwork and buys a lotto ticket at the Speedway a couple times a week.
"It's all working-class people. And I see a lot of regulars," Ernst said Monday as he purchased a new ticket during his lunch break. "I just wish that ticket would have been mine."
Des Plaines, Illinois, is majority white and has a population of nearly 60,000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The median household income, in 2020 dollars, is $74,000.
The mystery winner has a year from the date of the draw to claim their prize, according to the Illinois Lottery. The Speedway also gets a cash bonus of $500,000.
"Of all the places nationwide that sell lottery tickets, I can't believe I bought my ticket the day of the drawing at the same place that sold the winning ticket," Ernst said. "I really narrowed the field, you know? But still I came up empty."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Mega Millions lottery jackpot winner a mystery as others try luck