SAN JOSE -- Thuy Nguyen got the royal treatment when he showed up for work a half-hour early Wednesday.

Throngs of cameras greeted him, along with cheers from neighboring store owners. And he is just the one who sold a near-record winning Mega Millions ticket. Everyone, including Nguyen, was left with the $324 million mystery: Who is San Jose's latest multimillionaire, and what the heck are they going to do with all that money?

Nguyen, who just four months ago took over the East San Jose store where the ticket was sold, said it is indeed a very lucky thing to win $1 million for selling the big ticket. Then he promptly went to work, mainly selling more lottery tickets to customers hoping for a second bright bolt of luck to strike.

California Lottery officials put this sign up in front of the winning storein San Jose. (Gary Reyes, Mercury News)
California Lottery officials put this sign up in front of the winning store in San Jose. (Gary Reyes, Mercury News)

A woman in Georgia stepped forward as one of two winners, becoming a newly minted lottery queen. But so far in San Jose, no one has surfaced to claim the crown and a seat on the throne.

"Some people wait a while and get their ducks in a row," said California lottery official John Reading. "Others come right away, ready for that money."

With no winner for competition, by early afternoon Nguyen was oversaturated with attention.

Striding with pronounced swagger out of Jenny's Gift Shop on Tully Road after tending to an unending line of lottery customers, the 37-year-old father of three took a long drag off a cigarette and said he was "too tired to talk" and "needed a break" before being enveloped by a group of men for a round of high-fives and some manic arm-waving.

Nguyen, who has lived in San Jose for about 20 years, said he intends to use his winnings to buy a house for his wife and kids.

It was the consensus of his fellow shopkeepers that the ticket is likely in the clutches of one of the lottery gamblers who gather daily in the courtyard of the little terra-cotta mall.

"They used to play Chinese chess there, dozens of guys," said Peter Lai, who owns a neighboring pho restaurant. "But they cracked down on that months ago. They still hang out, groups of guys, and go in to buy lottery tickets and Scratchers, then come out and scratch."

Nguyen said that he has a lot of these regulars, who come in multiple times a day to re-up on a chance for a lucky break. He said that's the only reason he was still manning the ticket machine Wednesday afternoon.

"I don't think of them as customers," he said. "They come here so much they're my friends. They play every day, they want to play today, I can't stop."

Sunny Leong is one of those courtyard regulars, but he said there are a lot of other people who come through and buy tickets, and he doubted it's a familiar face who won. He added that he's not surprised no one came forward immediately.

"They're going to be scared -- now you got money -- a lot of people are going to be scared by that," he said.

Antony Nguyen, who was working the counter of the health store beside Jenny's Gift and Kids Wear bought tickets -- like most of the merchants in the mall -- and heard about where the ticket was sold before he learned the numbers.

"We were saying, whoever doesn't show up today, that's who won," he said.

The jackpot was believed to be the second-largest in U.S. history, after a March 2012 jackpot that reached $656 million. Tuesday's jackpot reached $648 million, touching off a buying frenzy in the days and hours before the drawing.

California lottery officials said $28.5 million worth of Mega Million tickets were sold on Tuesday alone, reaching 31,000 tickets a minute in the last hour of sales.

If the San Jose winner decides on a lump sum payment, rather than 26 annual checks, it'll mean a cash out of $173 million after taxes. The winner has one year to step forward.

In Atlanta, a 56-year-old married woman came forward to claim her half of the pool, which ends up substantially lower because her state taxes winnings, unlike California. But Ina Curry, who picked the numbers through a combination of family birthdays and the lucky number 7, will still get about $120 million.

And unlike Nguyen, the Georgia shop owner doesn't get to share the wealth -- there's no such payout in that state.

Nguyen will get his money by the end of January, lottery officials said.

"That way he can pay Uncle Sam next year," said Mona Sanders, a lottery official who presented Nguyen with an enormous -- but fake -- check for $1 million early Wednesday.

"This will be considered a lucky store, and people will come from no telling how far to purchase tickets at this store," Reading said.

Judging by the steady influx of customers on Wednesday, that was an accurate assessment. In the span of about two hours, Tessie Torino went in three times, twice alone and once with a pair of cohorts.

"I have a feeling I'm gonna be the next one," she said. "For every earthquake there's an aftershock."

Contact Eric Kurhi at 408-920-5852 or follow him at Twitter.com/erickurhi.