Millions of people win the lottery every year and hundreds of these win a sum in excess of $1 million. The vast majority of their stories go untold simply because there are lotteries happening all over the world every single day, but the big winners go down in the annuals of lottery history and are not as easily forgotten.
$1.5 Billion Split Three Ways
The largest ever lottery jackpot occurred on the USA-based Powerball in January 2016. The jackpot had been climbing for weeks, generating a wealth of press in the process as it became the first jackpot to pass $1 billion and continued to rollover.
When it was eventually claimed, three ticket-holders stepped forward: Maureen Smith and David Kaltschmidt, Marvin and Mae Acosta, and Lisa and John Robinson. They all took the cash prize and walked away with $327.8 million each.
A lesser known fact about this jackpot win, and other major jackpot wins, is that the stores that sold the tickets also received a prize of $1 million. The owner who sold the Californian ticket owned a store in Chino Hills and was delighted to see that the whole town showed up to congratulate him following the announcement. He had owned and run his store for nearly a quarter of a century at the time.
$1.5 Billion Goes One Way
The aforementioned Powerball jackpot was the only jackpot to pass $1 billion until October 2018, when a Mega Millions jackpot reached a similar amount. But there was only one winner of this jackpot, which meant the lucky ticket-holder became the biggest ever winner, collecting a cash prize of $877 million.
The winner chose to remain anonymous, but we know that they were from South Carolina. We also know that it took them several months to come forward, with the lottery organizers and the press scrambling over themselves to find them.
In fact, if they had left it just a few weeks longer they would have missed the deadline and the biggest ever lottery win would not have been claimed.
$758.7 Million to Mavis Wanczyk
Prior to the aforementioned Mega Millions win the biggest ever amount paid to a single winner was $758.7 million, which went to Mavis Wanczyk of Massachusetts in 2017.
Upon realizing the she had the winning ticket, the 53-year old immediately quit her job, where she had worked for 32 years. She was also very forthcoming in discussing her win, speaking with the press just 24 hours later.
Lottery experts recommend not telling anyone about a win for at least a few months, but Ms. Wanczyk clearly wasn't interested in following that advice.
The EuroMillions is the largest lottery in Europe and is particularly popular in France, Spain and the UK. It has a maximum jackpot of €190 million and has reached this amount on several occasions, with winners from Spain, England, and Portugal.
The Spanish winner chose to remain anonymous, although we do know that the ticket was purchased in Gran Canaria, leading many to speculate that it may have been a tourist. In fact, this region is very popular with British tourists, which would be very noteworthy when you consider that several other major EuroMillions jackpots have been claimed by British players.
Two of the most well known British ticket-holders are Gillian and Adrian Bayford, from Suffolk. They claimed €190 million in tax-free winnings and tried to continue their lives as normal. Adrian used the money to keep his record store alive, but soon tired of the many people that came in off the street asking him for handouts.
Their marriage also began to breakdown after the win, with the constant media attention adding to the stress and serving to create a wedge between them.
The other €190 million winner was Portuguese, but they chose to remain anonymous. We know more about other big winners though, including a couple that won €185 million in 2011.
The couple, Colin and Chris Weir, lived in Scotland and despite winning less than the Bayfords, the favorable exchange rate at the time—all UK winnings are transferred to GBP—meant they actually received more, €13 million more in fact.
The Weirs are reported to have donated 79% of the total campaign funds to the Independent Scotland campaign, a campaign that ultimately failed as the Scottish public voted to remain part of the United Kingdom.
€177.7 Million to an Italian Syndicate
The most money ever won by a syndicate occurred on the Italian SuperEnalotto in October of 2010. Syndicates are very popular on this Italian lottery as it has very high odds and players see syndicates as a way of reducing these odds and increasing their chances of a big win.
The syndicate was 70 strong, which means they each won €2.5 million. This is a small fraction of the €163.5 million won by a single ticket-holder 6 years later. In fact, this historic SuperEnalotto win occurred almost 6 years to the day of the syndicate's success.
Sources: The Guardian, The Times, ABC News