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Georgia winner comes forward for share of $648 million jackpot, officials say

California Lottery Merchant, Thuy Nguyen, sold one of two winning tickets for the Mega Million 636-million dollar jackpot, resulting in a one-million dollar prize. The owner of Jenny's Gifts, in San Jose, Calif., Nguyen migrated from Vietnam 20 years ago.

A Georgia woman came forward Wednesday to claim half of the $648 million Mega Millions lottery jackpot, the second-largest in American history.

Lottery officials identified her as Ira Curry, 56, of Stone Mountain, an Atlanta suburb. A person who answered the phone at that listing told NBC News: “We’re not interested in any publicity at all.”

According to a statement released by lottery officials, Curry said of winning: “It’s unreal. It’s like I’m still dreaming.”

Thuy Nguyen cheers knowing he will receive a $1 million bonus for selling one of the winning lottery tickets for the $636 Mega Millions jackpot.

Curry bought one of two winning tickets for the drawing Tuesday night. The other was sold in California, but the winner did not immediately come forward.

Georgia lottery officials said that Curry bought only the one ticket, a last-minute decision, and played a combination of family birthdays and her family’s lucky number, seven — the critical Mega Ball in the drawing Tuesday night.

“She was just in a state of disbelief,” said Debbie Alford, the Georgia lottery president.

Curry selected a single-payment option, rather than an annuity, and will take home about $120 million after federal and state taxes, the officials said.

Curry, who lottery officials said was driving when she heard about the winning numbers, did not appear at a Georgia lottery press conference. Lottery officials said they had spent a couple of hours with her and her husband, and that “she’s gonna take some time and think about it.”

Curry's employer congratulated her in a statement released Wednesday: "Aspen Insurance congratulates Ira Curry, a vice president based in Atlanta, on winning yesterday's Mega Millions jackpot. Ira is a valued long-term employee with Aspen, and the entire Aspen team is thrilled for her and her family. It could not have happened to a nicer person, and we are excited for her good fortune."

The winning tickets were sold at an office-building newsstand in Atlanta and at a shop in San Jose, Calif. And fortunes were very different for the two sellers. Because of differing lottery rules in their two states, one gets $1 million, while the other has to settle for publicity.

For selling a lucky ticket at his store, Jenny’s Gift & Kids Wear in San Jose, owner Thuy Nguyen will get a $1 million bonus. California lottery rules provide a retailer bonus of 0.5 percent of the prize, up to $1 million, a spokesman said.

Nguyen was called by state lottery officials Tuesday and rushed to his store. He said that he was so excited he wouldn’t be able to sleep.

“I feel good! I feel good!” he told NBC Bay Area. “I’m a lucky person.”

Nguyen, who bought the store only four months ago, said he wasn’t sure who hit the lucky numbers — 8, 14, 17, 20, 39 and Mega Ball 7 — but figures he probably knows them: “Mostly my customer here is my friend.”

Asked what he planned to do with the money, he said: “For my family, a house. And try to invest.”

David Tulis / AP

Owner Young Soo Lee basks in the attention at her newsstand on Wednesday in Atlanta.

It was a different story in Atlanta. Georgia lottery rules provide no retailer payout, spokeswoman Tandi Reddick said. Retailers get a flat 6 percent commission on the sales of the $1 tickets themselves, but no bonus for a winning ticket, she said.

Georgia retailers that have sold winning tickets in the past have also received giant fake checks to display.

“Of course, this location now has the distinction of being known as a lucky store, which is exciting news for them,” Reddick told NBC News in an email.

The owner of the Atlanta newsstand, which is in the upscale Buckhead neighborhood, is Young Soo Lee, 58, a Korean immigrant who said that she came to the United States in 1980.

There was some confusion at the Atlanta store after word arrived that one of the winning tickets was sold there. A CNN crew informed the store owner that she, too, was getting a $1 million bonus.

“Oh, my gosh!” she said, clutching her heart.

She told NBC News later that she was “a little mad” that she wasn’t getting the retailer bonus, but still excited that her store won.

In years past, according to news accounts, Georgia stores that have sold winning Mega Millions tickets have received a $25,000 bonus. Reddick, the spokeswoman, did not immediately respond to a question about when the bonus was phased out.

The winners beat odds of about 259 million to 1. The jackpot was the second-largest in American history, trailing only a $656 million draw last year, and could have approached $1 billion if no one had won.

In Nipton, Calif., so many people lined up to buy a ticket that the line stretched into the next state over, Nevada — because it’s one of seven states that don’t offer Mega Millions.

The surge of spending pushed the prize closer to the record U.S. jackpot of $656 million, won in March 2012 in a Mega Millions drawing.

The Mega Millions jackpot started growing Oct. 4. There were 22 drawings without winners before Tuesday night, Paula Otto, the game’s executive director, told The Associated Press.

Otto said that $336 million in tickets were sold for the Tuesday drawing, beating lottery officials’ expectation of $319 million.

“It was a fun run,” she said. “It was our first holiday run for either of the big jackpot games.”

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