Here Are the Largest Lottery Jackpots in US History

July 22, 2023
6 mins read
Here Are the Largest Lottery Jackpots in US History

On July 19, 2023, a lucky Los Angeles resident became one of the biggest lottery winners in U.S. history. Powerball‘s pot had reached over $1 billion after three months without a winning ticket. The Mega Millions, which will be drawn on July 21, is up to $720 million, also close to a record-setting value.

Lotteries have existed across cultures for a long time. From ancient Greece to the Han dynasty, people played the odds to realize an ambitious dream; other states looked to profit. In the United States, the popularity of the lottery came with European colonization, according to historian Jonathan D. Cohen’s book “For a Dollar and a Dream: State Lotteries in Modern America.” Despite Protestant misgivings, the profits lotteries generated were used to finance civil defense; the construction of churches; and even the founding of Harvard, Yale, and Princeton.

While lotteries helped fortify a new country, Americans eventually eschewed their use because of widespread concern over mishandling and mismanagement. In 1964, New Hampshire ran the first modern, state-run lottery. Now, only five states—Alabama, Utah, Alaska, Hawaii, and Nevada—don’t offer lotteries. At the same time, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands all have lotteries operated by the government.

States use lotteries to raise money for administrative fees and fund public services such as education or support for veterans. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, lotteries provide about 1% of state revenue annually. And what do the lucky ticket holders do with their share? Stacker compiled a list of the 15 largest lottery jackpots in U.S. history from news reports and lottery press releases.

A cashier holding Powerball lottery tickets.
Anadolu Agency // Getty Images

#15. $632.6 million

– Date: Jan. 5, 2022
– Game: Powerball
– Number of winning tickets: 2
– Winner’s location: California, Wisconsin

Two tickets split this jackpot, and the couple with the winning ticket in Wisconsin may have been in for a shock after learning how much went to the taxman. They chose the cash option for their half of the winnings, which totaled $225.1 million, though $71.2 million went straight to government coffers.

A person holding Mega Millions tickets.
VIEW press // Getty Images

#14. $648 million

– Date: Dec. 17, 2013
– Game: Mega Millions
– Number of winning tickets: 2
– Winners’ locations: California, Georgia

Big U.S. lotteries will let players have their numbers drawn randomly, or the buyer can choose the numbers they wish to play. While choosing birthdays or lucky numbers may seem silly, that strategy worked out nicely for Ira Curry in Georgia, one of the two winners of this jackpot. Her lucky combination of family birthdays earned her $173.8 million after taxes.

A cashier selling $200 worth of Mega Millions lottery tickets.
Irfan Khan // Getty Images

#13. $656 million

– Date: March 30, 2012
– Game: Mega Millions
– Number of winning tickets: 3
– Winners’ locations: Illinois, Kansas, Maryland

A cash windfall could promise the recipient a lifetime of luxury and leisure, but that’s not always the case. Merle and Patricia Butler, who won a third of this jackpot, built a financial and legal team to help them stay solvent—but only after buying one of the most expensive houses in their county.

A pile of Powerball tickets.
Tasos Katopodis // Getty Images

#12. $687.8 million

– Date: Oct. 27, 2018
– Game: Powerball
– Number of winning tickets: 2
– Winners’ locations: Iowa, New York

Lerynne West was among the two winners to split this payday, but she nearly lost her chance. West was in the middle of moving into her new home when she heard a winning ticket sold nearby, but she initially couldn’t find the ticket during the chaos of relocating. Thankfully, she tracked it down, earning a lump sum payment of over $198.1 million before taxes.

A person filling out a lottery ticket by hand.
Canva

#11. $699.8 million

– Date: Oct. 4, 2021
– Game: Powerball
– Number of winning tickets: 1
– Winner’s location: California

Scott Godfrey, the sole winner of this drawing, chose to take home the lump sum payment of nearly $500 million before taxes. Two months after winning, Godfrey set up a foundation for charitable works and donated a carload of toys for a holiday drive. He has since spoken out on viral social media scams using his name to dupe people with the false hope that he’ll give them money.

Powerball tickets on display.
Orange County Register // Getty Images

#10. $731.1 million

– Date: Jan. 20, 2021
– Game: Powerball
– Number of winning tickets: 1
– Winner’s location: Maryland

Before selling this winning ticket at a local corner store, the tiny town of Lonaconing, Maryland, was primarily known as the hometown of Major League Baseball pitcher Lefty Grove, who was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1947. This new influx of attention (and a $100,000 bonus to the store for selling the ticket) was an unexpected development to many in this coal-mining town of about 300 families.

Lottery tickets for the powerball lottery.
Deutschlandreform // Shutterstock

#9. $754.6 million

– Date: Feb. 6, 2023
– Game: Powerball
– Number of winning tickets: 1
– Winner’s location: Washington

Washington resident Becky Bell had already bought one Powerball ticket when she saw the jackpot reach nearly $750 million—$747 million, to be exact. The timing fell close to when Boeing delivered its final 747 jumbo jet, and as a supply chain analyst for the company, it inspired her to buy what would be the winning ticket.

Washington’s lottery also offers bonuses to the stores that sell winning tickets. The Fred Meyer location in Auburn donated its $50,000 prize to a local food bank.

Mavis L. Wanczyk posing for a photo with Massachusetts State Treasurer Deborah Goldberg.
Boston Globe // Getty Images

#8. $758.7 million

– Date: Aug. 23, 2017
– Game: Powerball
– Number of winning tickets: 1
– Winner’s location: Massachusetts

Two things happened when Mavis Wanczyk won a $336.6 million lump sum after taxes. First, she did what many aspirational lottery winners aim to do: quit her hospital job. Unfortunately, the sudden influx of attention also led local police to set up outside her home for security.

Colorful lottery balls.
Canva

#7. $768.4 million

– Date: March 27, 2019
– Game: Powerball
– Number of winning tickets: 1
– Winner’s location: Wisconsin

Manuel Franco said his biggest financial goal was to save $1,000 in his bank account before collecting this jackpot. Franco recalled the winning ticket being stuck to another in his wallet, and he almost didn’t see it. He told the press he planned to use his winnings to travel, pay for the college education of his family members, and donate to charity.

A Powerball ticket lying atop a pile of cash.
Denys Sapozhnik // Shutterstock

#6. $1.08 billion

– Date: July 19, 2023
– Game: Powerball
– Number of winning tickets: 1
– Winner’s location: California

As of July 20, 2023, this Powerball jackpot has yet to be claimed, but the owner of the Los Angeles mini-market that sold it has already been greeted with media excitement. Nabor Herrera will receive a $1 million bonus as the vendor and told CNN he plans to take his family on vacation.

The Powerball will reset at $20 million for players to try their luck again.

A machine printing a Mega Millions lottery ticket.
RINGO CHIU // Getty Images

#5. $1.1 billion

– Date: Jan. 22, 2021
– Game: Mega Millions
– Number of winning tickets: 1
– Winner’s location: Michigan

Most lottery winners want to stay out of the limelight, but some states require winners to be identified. Michigan has a loophole: Registered lottery clubs can select representatives to collect the winnings. The members of the Wolverines FLL lottery club, which held this billion-dollar-winning-ticket, hired a Florida-based lawyer to represent them, keeping the members’ identities private.

People walking by advertisements for the Mega Millions and Powerball lottery in New York City.
VIEW press // Getty Images

#4. $1.3 billion

– Date: July 29, 2022
– Game: Mega Millions
– Number of winning tickets: 1
– Winner’s location: Illinois

Two people in Illinois waited nearly two months to come forward and accept their prize, which they chose to take as a lump sum payment of $470.7 million after taxes. At least 16 states are like Illinois, allowing winners to maintain anonymity.

Powerball and Mega Millions advertisements displayed in New York City.
VIEW press // Getty Images

#3. $1.5 billion

– Date: Oct. 23, 2018
– Game: Mega Millions
– Number of winning tickets: 1
– Winner’s location: South Carolina

A soon-to-be anonymous winner was on a scenic drive while visiting Greenville when they pulled over at a KC Mart and bought a ticket “never once thinking she had the slightest chance to win,” according to a statement from her lawyer, Jason Kurland, who has represented several lottery winners. The drive earned her a lump sum cash payment of over $877 million before taxes. The winner’s lawyer? He was later charged with swindling money from his lottery-winning clientele.

Customers filing in to 7/11 to purchase Powerball lottery tickets.
Robert Gauthier // Getty Images

#2. $1.6 billion

– Date: Jan. 13, 2016
– Game: Powerball
– Number of winning tickets: 3
– Winners’ locations: California, Florida, Tennessee

Even in states where lottery winners’ names have to be made public, some winners take comprehensive steps to stay out of the glare of media attention. Marvin and Mae Acosta, who split this jackpot with two other winning tickets, not only showed up six months later with security guards to claim their winnings, the Associated Press reported that they moved out of their home listed on property records the day before coming forward. A statement by the couple said they would be donating most of the prize to a trust and charities.

A person behind a counter at a service station talking to a customer.
Gary Coronado // Getty Images

#1. $2.04 billion

– Date: Nov. 7, 2022
– Game: Powerball
– Number of winning tickets: 1
– Winner’s location: California

After months of obscurity, Edwin Castro was confirmed in February 2023 as the winner of the first U.S. jackpot to crack the $2.04 billion mark. Although he declined to appear on stage to receive his prize, Castro—who had also benefited from California’s public education system—thanked the California lottery for providing “supplemental funding for California public education.”

Castro bought the ticket at Joe’s Service Center in Altadena, just north of Los Angeles, netting him $997.6 million before taxes in a lump sum. Had he chosen to receive the money over 30 years, the jackpot would have worked out to $68 million a year before taxes.

Data reporting by Emma Rubin. Copy editing by Paris Close.

One-Time
Monthly
Yearly

Make a one-time contribution

Make a monthly contribution

Make a yearly contribution

The Georgia Sun’s articles are always free to read with no paywalls or subscriptions required. If you value our work and want to help us keep the news free and available to all, please consider making a voluntary contribution to support our efforts.

Choose an amount

$5.00
$10.00
$20.00
$10.00
$20.00
$100.00
$25.00
$50.00
$100.00

Or enter a custom amount

$

Your contribution is greatly appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

ContributeContributeContribute

Disclosure: This article may contain affiliate links, meaning we could earn a commission if you make a purchase through these links.


Events Calendar

Georgia Newswire