Washington state Mega Million winners claim prize

8:49 AM, Jan 7, 2011   |    comments
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(USA TODAY) - The Washington state winners of half of the $380 million Mega Millions prize stepped forward Thursday to claim their winnings, while officials in Idaho waited for the other lucky ticket holder to come forward.

During a 30-minute press conference in Olympia, Wash., Jim and Carolyn McCullar said they were shocked earlier this week when they realized they'd won. Jim McCullar had picked the numbers based on his birthday - 8/15/42 - and his wife's birthday - 4/25/47.

Retiree McCullar, a heart patient, said he was watching the late night television news when an anchor woman announced the numbers. His wife was asleep beside him. "I went, 'Carolyn!' I thought, 'Don't holler like that, she'll think you're having a heart attack.' " Jim McCullar said he called out for his wife again.

"She said, 'Are you OK?' I said, 'Yeah, I'm perfect, but you need to get out of bed.' "

They both checked the lottery numbers and they realized they were winners, McCullar said. "Tears started flowing and I looked at her and I started crying and all she could say is, 'Is this real?' " 

McCullar said that he has met with Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire but joked with her that he unfortunately couldn't help flesh out the state's budget. "I told her that my budget right now is all I can worry about, but I did invite her to go golfing," he said.

McCullar said he plans to put the check in the bank and write each of his six children "a check for a couple a bucks." In response to a reporter's question, he said there are some charities that can expect some donations too. He also said he will make sure the money is not squandered.

"I'm not going to fly all over the world and buy my own jet," McCullar said. "What this means to me is the legacy is going to go generation after generation after generation," he added, saying his children and their children "will never have to worry because we're not going to blow this."

The McCullars' ticket was bought at a supermarket in Ephrata, Wash., Washington Lottery spokesman Scott Kinney said. The holder of the other winning ticket, purchased just 125 miles away in Post Falls, Idaho, remained unknown.

The growing jackpot in the Mega Millions game - played in 41 states and Washington, D.C. - created a frenzy of ticket buying leading up to Tuesday's numbers drawing. That drove the value of the jackpot to $380 million, up from a $355 million estimate.

It is the second-largest jackpot in U.S. history, the Associated Press reported. Two winners in Georgia and New Jersey shared a $390 million Mega Millions prize in 2007.

Fans of ABC's Lost were pointing to similarities in the winning numbers and fictional lottery on the TV series.

The winning numbers were: 4, 8, 15, 25 and 47, plus the Mega Ball number of 42.

A character on Lost used a similar series to win on the show: 4, 8, 15, 16, 23 and 42.

"It's really awesome that so many people played those numbers knowing full well that they're CURSED!!!!" Lost executive producer Damon Lindelof said in an e-mail.

Some studies suggest that winning the lottery isn't the answer to life's problems.

Emotional well-being rises with income, but that effect doesn't progress beyond an annual income of $75,000, according to a study by psychologist Daniel Kahneman and economist Angus Deaton, both of Princeton University.

They conclude that high income buys life satisfaction but not happiness. The researchers based their conclusion on more than 450,000 responses to a daily survey of 1,000 U.S. residents by the Gallup Organization.

Another study suggests a windfall doesn't always fix one's financial situation.

A study published in October 2009 by Scott Hankins of the University of Kentucky, Mark Hoekstra of the University of Pittsburgh and Paige Marta Skiba of Vanderbilt University, looked at almost 35,000 winners of the Fantasy 5 lottery in Florida.

They found that recipients of $50,000 to $150,000 prizes were half as likely as winners of smaller prizes to file for bankruptcy in two years after winning, but 50% more likely in three to five years.

Abraham Silverbush of Syracuse, N.Y., who won a $35 million Mega Millions jackpot with his wife, Celia,and five children in 2009, declined to offer advice to the latest winners.

"I had plenty of publicity, thank you," he said before hanging up on a reporter.

Don McNay,a structured settlement consultant who counsels accident victims, lottery winners and others who receive large sums of money, said he advises lottery winners not to talk to the press and to avoid drawing attention.

"If it's up to me, I want you to stay quiet," he said.

McNay is author of "Son of a Son of a Gambler: Winners, Losers and What to Do When You Win the Lottery."

"The main thing is family and friends," McNay says. "Once everybody around you knows you have money you never expected to have, it brings out the worst."

McNay advises lottery winners to opt for installment payments over time as opposed to one lump-sum payment. He says many people who suddenly get a lot of money, from lottery winners to people who inherit money, often don't know how to manage such a large amount and wind up losing it.

McNay says most lottery winners go through their money in five years or less.

"I always tell people, if you blow $5 million once, you have 19 more times to get it right," he says.

A 2002 study of state lotteries and consumer behavior by Melissa Schettini Kearney, published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, said demand for lottery tickets "responds positively to the expected value" of the prize. She wrote that often consumers are aware the odds are stacked against them but elect to purchase tickets for entertainment value.

"Some worry that governments are 'tricking' people with a 'sucker's bet,' exploiting misinformation on the part of consumers," she wrote. "Supporters of state lotteries counter that people from all demographic groups play the lottery. They argue that people demand gambling products and a state lottery capitalizes on that demand ... Some charcterize lottery sales as a voluntary purchases of entertainment goods."

 

By William M. Welch and Melanie Eversley, USA TODAY

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