Money

The Mega Millions jackpot of $1.5 billion has been won—here's what happens next

One ticket sold in Simpsonville, South Carolina, correctly matched all six numbers picked during Tuesday's Mega Millions lottery drawing, winning the approximately $1.5 billion jackpot.

If you have questions about where that money comes from, or what happens following Tuesday's historic win, you're not alone. Here's what we know.

Who won?

"We're so happy for the winner or winners, and we know the South Carolina Education Lottery can't wait to meet them," Gordon Medenica, lead director of the Mega Millions Group and Director of Maryland Lottery and Gaming, said in a statement.

It may be a while before the world knows who won. The winner or winners have 180 days to come forward to make their claim. Experts recommend that lottery winners take their time, hire a lawyer and a financial planner to help them navigate their newfound wealth and, if possible, stay anonymous. Some states, including South Carolina, make that possible.

Once the winner or winners come forward, they will have the choice between a lump-sum payment of about $877.8 million or an annuity option valued at about $1.537 billion, minus taxes. The annuity is broken down into 30 graduated payments.

"Shark Tank" investor Kevin O'Leary suggests taking the lump sum: "Pay yourself an annuity," he says.

Where's the money right now?

Tuesday's $1.5 billion prize is the biggest in Mega Millions history, surpassing the $656 million pot won in March 2012. It comes just shy of making lottery history: The January 2016 Powerball jackpot of $1.586 billion still holds the record.

All that money isn't sitting in some vault at a facility like Fort Knox. It isn't even collected yet. Now that someone in South Carolina has won the jackpot, the participating states will gather and transfer the money there. They typically have two weeks to get that done, Maryland Lottery representative Seth Elkin tells CNBC Make It.

Where does the money come from?

The short answer: ticket sales.

"For each ticket sold, a portion is put into the jackpot fund. If there is a winner in an early jackpot, where sales may not be enough to cover the jackpot amount, each state contributes a share, based on their sales percentage, to make up the difference," Elkin says.

For Mega Millions, the jackpot starts at $40 million and rolls over until someone wins.

The values of the current Mega Millions prizes are based on sales through 10:45 p.m. ET on Tuesday, so the exact amounts are still being tallied, the lottery said Wednesday.

About half of the profit from the $2 tickets goes towards the prizes, according to a Mega Millions spokeswoman, and the rest of the proceeds are distributed to the 44 participating states, plus D.C. and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The money goes to pay for states' retailer commissions, administrative fees and the good causes supported by the lotteries, including education.

Individual states determine specifically how the lottery revenues are allocated. For example, Ohio lottery ticket sales have contributed over $24 billion to education since 1974. Ticket proceeds in Colorado, meanwhile, go to Great Outdoors Colorado, which funds preservation efforts around the state's parks, trails and wildlife.

Why do you have to buy tickets in cash?

Many states do not allow residents to pay for lottery tickets with a credit card. Gambling is generally regulated by state laws, so each state sets its own rules.

Currently, 10 states – Arizona, Delaware, Idaho, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island and Vermont – allow people to purchase lottery tickets with a credit card, CreditCards.com reports. Another eight states, including California and New York, allow it at the discretion of individual retailers.

Additionally, seven states – Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, New Hampshire, North Carolina or North Dakota – allow you to buy Mega Millions tickets online if you're a state resident and you've registered, according to the game's website. New York and Virginia also offer online Mega Millions subscription sales, where residents can set up how many games they want to play in advance.

Like this story? Subscribe to CNBC Make It on YouTube!

Don't miss: 3 mistakes you shouldn't make if you win the $1.6 billion Mega Millions jackpot