New York (AFP) - At least three mystery winners in California, Florida and Tennessee will split a world record $1.6 billion lottery jackpot, which tempted millions of hopefuls across the United States to try their luck.
The winning numbers were 4, 8, 19, 27 and 34, drawn from five white balls, and 10 as the so-called Powerball number on a red ball, capping weeks of frenzied ticket buying for the record jackpot.
The odds of winning were at least one in 292 million, but so great was the mania that lottery executives warned people not to splurge life savings or retirement plans on what they called cheap entertainment.
The three-way split means that each ticket holder is entitled to $528.8 million -- which they can either choose to claim in a one-off cash payment or receive in annual payments for 29 years.
That means that Gloria Mackenzie, an 84-year-old woman from Florida, still holds the record as the highest individual winner in a Powerball jackpot after her solo ticket scooped $590.5 million in May 2013.
"It's official! There were 3 jackpot-winning tickets in tonight's Powerball draw: California, Florida & Tennessee," California Lottery tweeted.
The bonanza payout was the result of 20 Powerball draws with no overall winner and had started at a modest $40 million on November 7.
Swarms of people, many cheering and chanting, descended on the Los Angeles convenience store where the California ticket was sold, local television stations reported.
There was a windfall too for Balbir Atwal, owner of a 7-Eleven franchise in Chino Hills, a Los Angeles suburb, who will pocket a $1 million bonus for selling a winning ticket.
"I didn't expect this big crowd but my Chino Hills customers love me, and I love them," he told CNN, grinning broadly.
In the southern state of Tennessee, the winning ticket was bought in Munford, a small town of just 5,000 residents, northeast of Memphis.
In Florida, the winner paid their $2 in a Melbourne Beach supermarket.
- Dozens of $1-2 million prizes -
Lottery executives advise that jackpot winners should sign their tickets, keep them safe, and hire an attorney and a financial advisor.
Powerball announced that 73 people won $1 million each by matching the numbers of all five white balls and 827 people $50,000 by matching four white numbers and the number on the red Powerball.
The lucky few could double those winnings by forking out an extra dollar when they bought their original tickets, so eight people won $2 million and 107 people netted $100,000, Powerball said.
Despite the miniscule chances of hitting the jackpot, shops across the United States did a roaring trade in frenzied last-minute ticket sales in the final hours before the live draw.
Office workers dashed out between meetings fantasizing about what they would do with the winnings and commuters in the northeast joked about scooping the jackpot to save them from the deep freeze of winter.
For days, the talk of the nation, from coast to coast, and even from Canada to Mexico, was: will someone finally win the first Powerball in two months and, if so, how would you spend such a whopping jackpot?
New York office manager Kelly Hagstrand bought $100 worth of tickets for a pool of 20 colleagues at work on Wednesday. "Hopefully if we'll win it'll be a happy ending," she told had AFP.
"Everybody's talking about it," she said, "people figuring out how much each we would get, yeah pretty awesome."
The lottery says ticket sales reached record levels, generating more than $1 million an hour in Texas alone on Wednesday morning.
It was a bonanza of sorts for retailers, too, particularly those in US states bordering the handful that do not participate in the game.
The lottery had anticipated that 85 percent of all possible combinations would be wagered on so there was an 85 percent likelihood of a jackpot winner on Wednesday night.
With the frenzy over surrounding Wednesday's record-setting jackpot, Powerball's estimated purse for the next drawing on Saturday returned to a still-rich, but relatively unimpressive $40 million.
The previous US jackpot record of $656 million, on March 30, 2012, was scooped up by three winners from North Carolina, Puerto Rico and Texas.
But the world's richest lottery is Spain's annual Christmas "El Gordo" drawing, which in 2015 handed out 2.2 billion euros ($2.4 billion) but with a maximum individual win of 400,000 euros.