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Winners of US$1.6b US Powerball jackpot still unknown

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Three ticket holders with a claim on a record US$1.6 billion Powerball jackpot were laying low on Thursday, their identities still a mystery even as lottery officials revealed the retailers in California, Florida and Tennessee that sold them the lucky tickets.

[LOS ANGELES] Three ticket holders with a claim on a record US$1.6 billion Powerball jackpot were laying low on Thursday, their identities still a mystery even as lottery officials revealed the retailers in California, Florida and Tennessee that sold them the lucky tickets.

Each of the winning tickets is worth US$528.8 million to the holders, lottery officials said in California, one of 44 states plus Washington DC and two US territories that sold millions of Powerball tickets.

The winning numbers of 08 27 34 04 19 and Powerball 10, picked in a drawing on Wednesday night, appeared on tickets sold in three stores: a 7-Eleven convenience store in Chino Hills, California, a Publix supermarket in Melbourne Beach, Florida and Naifeh's Food Mart in Munford, Tennessee. The jackpot winners overcame odds of 1 in 292 million. "I'm very happy and I really appreciate these guys celebrating this store," said a clerk at the California 7-Eleven who identified himself as M Faroqui. Cheering crowds swarmed the suburban Los Angeles store and its parking lot late on Wednesday.

At a media conference in front of the 7-Eleven, lottery officials presented a symbolic check for US$1 million to the owner of the franchise, Balbir Atwal, for selling a jackpot winning ticket. He said he would give some of the bonus money to charity and share some of it with his friends and family.

With each state setting its own lottery rules, the Tennessee retailer, located in a Memphis suburb, received US$25,000 and the Florida retailer, located in a tiny coastal town, will get US$100,000 at an undetermined date, lottery officials said.

The announcement of the winners came after the previous 19 drawings produced no jackpot winners. With the grand prize rolling over each time, the bounty soared to a record US$1.586 billion, fueled by what had become a national preoccupation with Powerball and the prospect of taking home untold riches.

In towns and cities across the country, millions of would-be billionaires, many of them who had never before played a lottery, stood in long lines to buy tickets.

It was the largest lottery prize ever offered in North America, and no other lottery in the world had ever featured a jackpot of that size that could be won on a single ticket.

The winners in Florida and Tennessee have not come forward, lottery officials in those states said, and officials have not said if anyone in California had claimed the prize.

Under the rules, a winner has up to a year to do so. All three states with winners have laws requiring their names to be released publicly, according to the Powerball website.

To receive the full jackpot amount, winners must accept a multi-year annuity, whereas the lump sum cash payout for the jackpot was about US$983.5 million, lottery officials said.

In November, a Tennessee ticket holder claimed a US$144.1 million prize.

Aside from the jackpot winners in Wednesday's drawing, some 26 million ticket holders won smaller prizes ranging from US$2 million to US$4, depending on the combination of numbers matched in the Powerball drawing, said Kelly Cripe, spokeswoman for the Texas lottery.

For every US$1 worth of Powerball sales, half goes to prizes, 40 per cent is earmarked for things such as education, and 10 per cent goes to retailers who sell the tickets and administrative costs, Grief said.

The cycle will start again on Saturday night when the next Powerball drawing will have an estimated jackpot of US$40 million, according to the lottery operator's website.

REUTERS