America was a nation plunged into disappointment yesterday as all but three citizens realised their raids on the penny jar to buy tickets in a lottery with a jackpot of $656m (£409m) had come to nought.
The trio of exceptions – from Maryland, Illinois and Kansas – had good news and bad. The bad was that they had to share the world's largest ever payout, the good was that they would still get a vast sum of money each.
The winning numbers were 2, 4, 23, 38, 46 and Mega Ball 23. The Maryland ticket was sold at a 7-Eleven store in the Baltimore area, and the Illinois ticket in the tiny town of Red Bud, near St Louis.
The winners can take the cash as a single payout, or in 26 annual instalments – both subject to a 25 per cent federal tax. Their identities are not yet known, but will be in the case of Illinois ticket holder, since state law says winners must be listed in public records.
And so the frenzy of buying tickets for the Mega Millions Lottery, which is played in 42 states, will give way to the frenzy of discovering who the winners actually are and what they intend to do with all that cash. The last record jackpot was a mere $390m, shared between two winners in 2007.
The lure of so mighty a prize this time had set off something close to national hysteria. Officials said that the country spent $1.5bn on tickets, most of them sold in a final rush on Friday.