Des Plaines, Illinois — Michael Ernst was watching the news Saturday morning when he saw images of his local gas station flashing on the screen.
“I got goosebumps,” Ernst, 61, said. “I was just thinking, oh my God, I bought a ticket there on Friday morning.”
Ernst said he jumped off the sofa and ran to his wallet to check the lotto ticket.
“It’s not even close,” he said. “It doesn’t even have a number.”
Ernst was among dozens of customers who stopped by Monday at the Speedway store in suburban Chicago, part of a popular gas and convenience chain, days after a shopper there won a prize of nearly The $1.34 billion Mega Millions jackpot. This is the second largest lottery in Mega Millions history and the third largest lottery prize in the nation.
The winning numbers are: 13-36-45-57-67, Mega Ball: 14. The unnamed ticket holder had a 1 in 303 million chance of winning the jackpot.
“We have not heard from the winner,” Illinois Lottery Director Harold Mays said in a statement Saturday. “We don’t know if they knew they won this incredible prize. So we tell all of our players – check your tickets.”
Mega Millions Jackpot:Lucky Illinois ticket wins $1.34B, 2nd most in game history
The jackpot has been rolling since April 16 and has attracted national attention. New York Islanders bought $50,000 worth of tickets. Raising Cane’s CEO spent $100,000 on tickets for employees. And, hours before the draw, hundreds lined up to buy tickets at a “lucky” liquor store in Hawthorne, California.
Lisa Lepore, 61, said that by Saturday morning, the line for the lottery machine at Des Plaines Speedway was so long that it zigzagged around the store. Lepore said she was a bus driver and often refueled at the location next to the O. ‘Hare International Airport.
She said when she heard the news earlier on Saturday, Lepore wondered if one of her colleagues had become rich overnight.
“I want people who really need it to win it because it’s going to be a game changer for them,” she said.
As Lepor spoke, others streamed by the machine, sandwiched between the ice cream freezer on one side and the donut boxes and beef jerky racks on the other. Some scanned old tickets. Others bought new ones. Small trash cans on the ground are littered with discarded notes and scratch cards.
Other customers — many fledgling airline uniforms — buy milkshakes and cigarettes, and employees sell pizza and reloaded coffee makers.
Don Barrett, 64, stopped on the track while refueling and slid a bill into the lottery machine.
“I think I’ll try my luck,” Barrett said. “I didn’t even know it was this location. I just knew it was somewhere in the suburbs.”
Keith Wilborn, 50, said he first heard the news when his landlady asked him if he had won the lottery. Wilburn said he worked for United Airlines and stopped by the highway every day to buy soda and gas.
“It’s great to see it in this area — money,” Wilburn said.
Wilburn said he had bought a few tickets in the past. But he didn’t buy a ticket on Monday.
“I can’t see lightning strike twice in one place,” he said.
Chicago resident Ernst said he commutes to the suburbs to work at a local factory and buys lotto tickets at Speedway several times a week.
“It’s all working-class people. I see a lot of regulars,” Ernst said Monday as he bought a new ticket during his lunch break. “I just wish that ticket was mine.”
Des Plaines, Illinois, is predominantly white with a population of nearly 60,000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The median household income in 2020 dollars is $74,000.
According to the Illinois Lottery, mystery winners have one year from the date of the draw to claim their winnings. Speedway also received a $500,000 cash prize.
“Of all the places in the country that sell lottery tickets, I can’t believe I bought a lottery ticket at the same place that sold the winning ticket on draw day,” Ernst said. “I really narrowed it down, you know? But I still got nothing.”