CHINO HILLS, CALIF. — In a crowded parking lot and a packed 7-Eleven store on the corner of Chino Hills Parkway and Pipeline Avenue in suburban Los Angeles, residents and Powerball lottery players were chanting: “Chino Hills! Chino Hills! Chino Hills!”
This 7-Eleven, owned by Balbir Atwal, sold one of the winning tickets in Wednesday’s record $1.6 billion jackpot drawing. Atwal discovered his store sold the ticket from news reports; his customers found out from the news, Facebook and Instagram. Not long after, a crush of people, and a cavalcade of hulking television news vans, showed up at his store, and many didn’t leave until close to 11 p.m.
“I feel very good, some lucky customer came here and made me famous,” said Atwal, who has owned the store since 1994 and owns three others in Yorba Linda, Diamond Bar and La Habra. The 57-year-old said he might use his share — $1 million, minus some shared with 7-Eleven, a bonus for selling the ticket — to help his employees and help young people go to college.
In the meantime, Atwal offered a more modest gift to his customers: free Slurpees.
The scene in Chino Hills capped weeks of lottery fever as the Powerball jackpot built up to a historic high. There were three winning tickets in California, Tennessee, and Florida, officials said.
The winning numbers were 8-27-34-4-19 with Powerball: 10. The jackpot will be split among the winners.
The winners didn’t immediately step forward to claim the prizes, and their identities remained a mystery Thursday.
The winning ticket in Florida was purchased at a Publix grocery store in Melbourne Beach, the Florida Lottery wrote on Twitter. Publix was “excited for the customer or customers who purchased the winning ticket,” spokesman Dwaine Stevens wrote in an email to The Post.
“This is a life-changing amount of money, so we encourage the winner to take the time to get their affairs in order,” Florida Lottery spokeswoman Shelly Gerteisen said. “If they want to meet with a financial planner or get legal advice, we encourage them to do that.”
In Tennessee, the lucky ticket was purchased at Naifeh’s Food Mart in Munford, a city about 40 minutes from Memphis, Rebecca Hargrove, president and CEO of the Tennessee Lottery, announced Thursday afternoon.
In Chino Hills on Wednesday night, some in the crowd took selfies with Atwal and two of the store’s managers. That group included 17-year-old Terell Love, who worked his way behind the counter to get a photograph with the owner.
“This is crazy,” Love said. “Out of the whole country, and it could have been anyone, Chino Hills gets the winning numbers. This puts Chino Hills on the map.”
Chino Hills resident Shari Davis, 51, came by the store to support the community. She bought her ticket at an Arco gas station across the street.
“I needed to get gas,” she said. “So I bought my ticket there.”
Balbir Gosal has managed the Chino Hills store for 11 years and worked 12-hour shifts for the past four days selling tickets. He said he thinks he’s the one who sold the customer the winning ticket. When someone asked him what he’s going to say to the winner, Gosal’s 21-year-old niece chimed in: “He’s going to say, ‘Where is my cut?’’’
Nelson Moreno, 53, drove from Moreno Valley to witness the excitement. He bought $80 worth of lottery tickets, some in his home city, some in Irvine and a few in Los Angeles. He, like many Wednesday night, was hoping to get a chance to talk to the winner.
“Maybe if he comes, he will give us some money,” Moreno said.
Jeff Stander, marketing manager for 7-Eleven stores in the Greater Los Angeles area, which includes the Chino Hills store, was not sure how the $1 million Powerball bonus will be divided between 7-Eleven and Atwal’s franchise. But when he saw that Atwal was giving away Slurpees, he just smiled.
A Powerball winner was not guaranteed. Alex Traverso, a spokesman for the California State Lottery, told the Los Angeles Times that 86 percent of all possible combinations were chosen.
“This is exciting,” he said. “I hope we have a winner today.”
This story has been updated.
Moyer and Larimer reported from Washington.