2 winners in massive $550 million US lottery jackpot

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Powerball numbers are chosen in the drawing at the Florida Lottery on Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2012, in Tallahassee, Fla. The numbers drawn in the $579.9-million game were: 5, 16, 22, 23, 29 and Powerball of 6. AP

WASHINGTON – Two people had winning tickets in the $550 million Powerball jackpot, beating the one in 175 million odds for the second largest lottery in US history, the game’s website said early Thursday.

Powerball’s website crashed shortly after the winning numbers – 5, 23, 16, 22, 29, with Powerball 6 – were announced late Wednesday, as did that of the Multi-State Lottery Association, which oversees Powerball.

Lottery fever in the lead-up to the drawing was such that 160,000 tickets per minute were being sold, according to media reports.

The Powerball website said players in Arizona and Missouri had the winning numbers, without providing further information. It was not yet clear if anyone had come forth to claim the prize.

Another 8.9 million players won lesser prizes totaling $131 million.

Nobody had won the semi-weekly grand prize for Powerball – available in 42 states, the District of Columbia and the US Virgin Islands – since October 6, swelling the kitty for whoever holds the winning six-number combination.

Winning numbers, selected every Wednesday and Saturday, are made up of five out of 59 white balls plus one out of 35 red “Powerballs” from which the game gets its name.

The odds of winning stood at one in 175.2 million — compared to the one in a million chance of being struck by lightning in a given year.

“I’m buying this lottery ticket so I can put my pencil down and walk out of my office and live my dreams,” quipped a 40-something woman named Szami earlier as she bought a batch of tickets for herself and friends at a Washington corner store, declining to give her family name.

“It’s phenomenal. There’s a lot of excitement in the air,” added Kimberly Chopin of the Louisiana state lottery, which had sold $2.5 million in tickets by mid-afternoon Wednesday – compared to $1.1 million a week earlier.

The biggest jackpot in US lottery history – $640 million – was claimed by MegaMillions players in Kansas, Illinois and Maryland who all held tickets bearing the same winning number.

Lottery winnings in the United States are subject to taxation, with winners typically getting a choice between an annuity spread over many years or a reduced amount paid out in a lump sum.

Besides the jackpot, players can win as much as $1 million if they hold tickets with most but not all of the drawn numbers, but many people are unaware of such secondary prizes, which end up going unclaimed.

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