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Ill. Mega Millions jackpot winner still a mystery

Published: Wednesday, April 11, 2012 5:30 a.m. CDT

ST. LOUIS – Two of the winning tickets of a record $656 million Mega Millions jackpot have been anonymously claimed in Maryland and Kansas, yet the mystery festers about who bought that third lucky ticket in Illinois. And unlike the other states, whoever holds the ticket in Illinois may not get to keep their identity hidden.

Firmly believing that lottery players with losing tickets deserve to know that prizes are awarded as promised, the Illinois Lottery's chief reiterated Tuesday that publicly identifying the holder of the March 30 drawing's winning ticket – purchased from a southern Illinois convenience store – is "a very key part of the lottery equation."

There is some wiggle room to publicly conceal a winner's name "if there are good and rational reasons for it," Illinois Lottery Superintendent Michael Jones said, though he noted the lottery could offer up enough details where "ultimately an enterprising reporter can figure out who it was."

"We need to prove that prizes are awarded on a random basis, and that we do award a prize," Jones told The Associated Press as his Maryland counterparts announced that the holders of the state's winning ticket – two public school teachers and a school administrator – finally had stepped forward, insisting anonymity.

The Kansas winner claimed a share of the jackpot Friday, also opting to remain nameless.

While Illinois lottery rules can compel a winning ticket-holder to appear for a news conference and related promotions as a showing of transparency, some winners of big jackpots have found a way around it.

In one notable case last year, a Chicago-area couple who won a $30 million jackpot created a limited liability corporation that allowed them to collect the payouts while safeguarding their identities, according to a Chicago Tribune report in November that quoted the couple's attorney and confirmation Tuesday by Jones. The couple, who pledged to keep their jobs and hide their suddenly bloated bank account from friends and family, were the first winners in the Illinois lottery's history to claim a prize as an LLC.

"Mostly these corporate entities have more to do with tax liability than people hiding their name for nefarious reasons," Jones said.

Whether the holder or holders of the winning Illinois ticket are pursuing a similar path remains unclear. So far, whoever bought that golden ticket at the MotoMart in Red Bud, a 3,700-resident town about 40 miles southeast of St. Louis, hasn't called the Illinois Lottery or arranged a visit to the agency's offices in Springfield or Chicago.

"We're awaiting with anticipation as everyone else is," Jones said. "I think there's as much speculation here at the lottery office as to what's going on. As to why it hasn't been claimed up to now, my imagination is just like anyone's."

It's possible that whoever has that ticket hasn't checked its numbers, making them unaware they're filthy rich. But Jones suspects "the odds are that whoever won is doing their due diligence on the best way to claim it," including by hiring a financial adviser and an attorney.

"At least I hope so," Jones said. Noting the other winners of the March 30 drawing who have come forward, "where there were three there were just two. And now, there's just one. We're ready to see who it is."

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