They say you can’t buy happiness… but we sure wouldn't mind having a few spare million! With the US Mega Millions and Powerball jackpots recently in the hundreds of millions, it's time to take a look back at the 20 biggest American lottery winners of all time. Keep playing lottery online at theLotter for your chance to become the next lottery multi-millionaire!
20. Kevyn Ogawa & James "Jimmy" Groves, 28 August 2009, Mega Millions, $336M
James “Jimmy” Groves was no stranger to the Mega Millions game. The 49-year-old grandfather had been playing the Mega Millions lotterysince May 2002. His loyalty paid off 7 years later, as the former Madison Square Garden employee accepted his share of a $336M jackpot.
As a result of choosing the annuity, Groves received his $168,000,000 prize in 26 gross annual payments totaling more than $6,400,000 each. He will receive an annual net check totaling just over $4,000,000 through 2035.
The other half of the incredible $336M jackpot was won by Kevyn Ogawa from San Gabriel, California. He took the cash option, so his winnings totaled $107 million. He bought his ticket from an Asian noodle shop in San Gabriel.
The noodle shop that sold the winning lottery ticket basked in the rich broth of fame. The shop is best known for its simple and affordable fare. A bowl of noodles goes for less than $5. But after Kevyn purchased the winning lottery ticket there, the restaurant became an instant landmark for American lottery winners. Hungry? I'll take $336M with those noodles, thank you!
19. Louise White/The Rainbow Sherbert Trust, 11 February 2012, Powerball, $336.4M
81-year-old grandmother Louise White accepted the $336.4 million cheque on behalf of the Rainbow Sherbert Trust she and her family created. She smiled for the camera and said that she was truly blessed. Other than that, she wished to remain as low-key as possible.
So why the name Rainbow Sherbert? On the Saturday of the Powerball draw, White's son got a craving for the tasty dessert. Louise and her son went to the local Stop N Shop and purchased the rainbow sherbert along with three Powerball tickets. That dessert ended up being sweeter than they ever could have imagined!
The family chose to take the lottery prize as a one-time lump-sum, leaving them with $210 million before taxes withheld.
18. Donald Lawson, 15 August 2012, Powerball, $337M
Donald Lawson, a longtime lottery fan, always knew he would win something, but never expected that something would be $337 million.
"I couldn't breathe," Lawson said, in describing what it felt like when he realized he had a Powerball ticket worth millions of dollars. "I had to look at the ticket twice."
Lawson won the jackpot with numbers that he chose – 6-27-46-51-56 and Powerball 21. These were not Lawson’s usual numbers; he said that this time he was “guided from above”.
Lawson chose to claim the cash prize of $224.6 million, which after taxes left him with a very large lump sum of $158.7 million and one of the biggest American lottery winners of all time.
17. Pedro Quezada, 23 March 2013, Powerball, $338M
Dominican Republic-born Pedro Quezada claimed the tenth largest Powerball win in the multi-state lottery's history in March of 2013, effectively putting an end to his days of managing a bodega in Passaic, New Jersey. Opting for the lump sum, Quezada received $221 million before taxes, which he generously shared with his wife and five children.
His generosity didn't stop there. Quezada also offered to pay rent for residents living near his bodega for "at least a month or two months." Before the win, Quezada would awake at 5 a.m. to open his bodega, Apple Deli Grocery, and close at 11 p.m. Luckily for him, the Eagle Liquors store near the bodega would change his life forever with one simple ticket!
After the win, Quezada and his girlfriend of 10 years split up. The girlfriend and mother of his child sued for a portion of the money, claiming that the ticket was bought with shared earnings. In a sort of romantic turn of events, the suit was dropped when the two parties decided to get back together. Good for them, but a prenup may be in order!
16. Chaney & West Families, 19 October 2005, Powerball, $340M
Steve West and Bob Chaney had a winning friendship. The Medford, Oregon residents jointly won a $340 million Powerball jackpot in October 2005.
Each of the recipients opted for a one-time, lump-sum payment, leaving them each about $110 million after taxes.
You'd expect such a jackpot to lead to lavish shopping sprees. But that wasn't not the case for these two. They were more concerned about helping others.
Steve and Carolyn West, and Frances Chaney (Bob's wife) created the West Family Foundation and the Robert & Frances Chaney Family Foundation to support nonprofit organisations that serve poor children and families in southern Oregon.
"We'd been in some of those situations ourselves before the lottery," Carolyn West said, recalling financial struggles after her husband lost his job and their oldest daughter Erin was diagnosed with diabetes.
"We just want to give back," she said. "We don't expect anything in return."
The Wests and Chaney each bought a house within a mile of each other and a few new vehicles. Both families have traveled a bit, the Wests to Italy and Switzerland with their two daughters, and Frances Chaney on trips with her other four children.
Unfortunately, less than a year after accepting his winnings, Bob Chaney (73) passed away from a brain injury suffered during a fall.
15. Larry & Nancy Ross and Joe & Sue Kainz, 9 May 2000, The Big Game, $363M
Larry and Nancy Ross of Shelby Township, Michigan became part of U.S. gaming history as they claimed their share of an amazing lottery jackpot: the $363 million grand prize in the May 2000 Big Game drawing!
The Rosses have an oh-so delicious lottery story. Larry was buying a hot dog and had just a $100 bill on him. "I asked the guy to give me the change in Lotto tickets." One of all those 98 lottery tickets was actually worth every penny!
The second couple who claimed half the jackpot were Joe and Sue Kainz from suburban Chicago. The couple bought the winning ticket at a convenience store in Lake Zurich.
"To me money has never meant anything more than freedom. So, I think we have quite a bit of it here," said Sue Kainz.
Joe and Sue own a successful brewing company called Wild Onion Brewing Co. At the time of the win, the couple said that they didn't plan to retire. "We put this whole thing together with blood, sweat and tears. And there’s no way we’re going to give this up!"
Both couples decided to take their $181.5 million share in a lump-sum payment for approximately $90 million after taxes withheld.
14. American Lottery Winners - ConAgra Foods syndicate, 18 February 2006, Powerball, $365M
This syndicate that won $365 million included two refugees from Vietnam and a young political refugee whose family fled central Africa in 1999. All eight members were second- and third-shift supervisors and maintenance workers at Cook’s food processing plant in Nebraska, who each paid $5 into their Powerball lotterysyndicate and found themselves millionaires the next day.
The lottery syndicate members were Quang Dao, 56, David Gehle, 53, Alain Maboussou, 26, Robert Stewart, 30, Michael Terpstra, 47, Dung Tran, 34, Eric Zornes, 40 and Chasity Rutjens, 29.
Five of the winners said that they would keep their jobs, packing ham and corned beef on swing and graveyard shifts.
The winners said they often pooled their money with other workers when Powerball jackpots exceeded $40 million. "I don’t think they have a reason to be jealous because when it’s a pool day, we ask people to put like in five bucks, so if you wasn’t there or you didn’t put five bucks in, sorry," said Maboussou, one of the winners.
They agreed on the cash option of $177.3 million, or $124.1 million after taxes. Each winner received $22.1 million, which amounted to $15.5 million after taxes.
13. Jim & Carolyn McCullar and Holly Lahti, 4 January 2011, Mega Millions, $380M
Jim and Carolyn McCullar from Ephrata, Washington were the first to claim their $190 million share for matching all six numbers (4, 8, 15, 25, 47 and Mega Ball 42) in the January 2011 draw. The McCullars bought their ticket in an Ephrata Safeway and Carolyn is quoted as saying, "I had faith one day that we were going to hit it… You got to have faith!"
All the lottery world knew about the second winner was that the winning ticket was bought in Post Falls, Idaho, not far from Washington state. Eventually the second Northwest winner did step forward, a 29-year-old named Holly Lahti.
Holly recently appeared back in her home city, joining former co-workers raising funds for Relay for Life and the American Cancer Society. Lahti matched the total amount of charitable gifts raised at the local fundraiser. In her first ever video news interview, Holly explained how her absence from the spotlight helped and that she was now in a good place saying, "I’m happy. I’m happy [that] my girls are happy. And I’m happy I’m able to do things for my children I wasn’t able to do in the past."
12. Elaine & Harold Messner and Eddie Nabors, 6 March 2007, Mega Millions, $390M
In March 2007, Elaine and Harold "Barry" Messner from New Jersey, and Eddie Nabors from Georgia shared the $390 million Mega Millions jackpot, what was the biggest jackpot in lottery history at the time. How big of a deal was this jackpot? Prior to the winning draw, ticket sales in Virginia exceeded 10,500 tickets per minute!
"This is that early retirement we've always dreamed of," Harold Messner, 57, said in an official statement.
Through a lawyer they hired prior to claiming their prize – $87.4 million in cash, after taxes – the Messners declined all comment. There was no giant check and smiling. They entertained no questions about just how delicious it must feel winning that much money or exactly how they planned to spend the gigantic jackpot.
"Harold and Elaine did everything right that you could ask of a winner in a big jackpot. They signed their ticket, they put it in a safe place, and then they sought legal and financial advice. Those are the steps we love to see our winners take before they come forward," said William T. Jourdain, executive director of the New Jersey Lottery.
Eddie Nabors, a truck driver and father of three, was the second jackpot winner.
"A coworker told me that somebody in Dalton won, so I looked it up in the newspaper," Nabors said. "I couldn't believe it. I was numb."
Nabors took the next day off by “calling in rich” to his job. These American lottery winners took the cash option.
11. Anonymous, 18 September 2013, Powerball, $399.4M
This fantastic US lotto jackpot followed on the heels of a staggering $448.4 million top prize split three ways just six weeks earlier. Whereas that prize was split by 18 different people, this enormous $399.4 million Powerball jackpot had only one winner.
South Carolina law allows winners to protect their anonymity, so although this was the tenth largest jackpot ever won, there’s very little to say about the 9-digit multi-millionaire except that they bought their ticket at a Murphy Express petrol station.
What we do know is that South Carolina claimed 18 $1 million+ Powerball winners across 2012 and 2013, compared to just six in the 2010-2011 period. Between 2010 and 2013, South Carolina claimed almost $700 million in US Powerball top prizes, with significant sums being received and used to support state education.
10. The Cobie and Seamus Trust & Anonymous, 18 March 2014, Mega Millions, $414M
The two leading American lotteries – Powerball and Mega Millions - are leading the lotto world with the fabulous 9 digits jackpots in 2013 creating lucky winners who often found themselves in the headlines. However, even these lottery giants continue to thirst after bigger prizes and more American lottery winners! Powerball is on another mission to turn these goals into a significant lead in the American lottery race for supremacy with the upcoming changes to the Power Play on January 22nd.
If this means changing the rules of the game, so be it!
This is what Mega Millions officials thought only a few months ago, in October 2013, when the game went through a complete makeover, changing almost everything – from initial jackpot value to winning odds and numbers guess range. Was this effective? It might seem like it, when we think that only a few weeks after Mega Millions stepped into its new stage of life, the giant US lotto produced a monster jackpot of $648 million – the 2nd in the history of worldwide lotteries.
US Powerball organizers said the same thing in January 2012, when the American lottery was celebrating its 20th anniversary by updating its prizes and winning odds, promising new world records and more millionaires than ever before. One of the major changes brought to lotto US Powerball rules on January 15th 2012 referred to the guess range that was going down from 39 to 35 balls. This meant an increase in the overall winning odds. At the same time the jackpot’s starting amount was doubled from $20 million to $40 million and Power Play became a fixed multiplier with the power to double the second prize’s amount to $2 million and multiply all other secondary prizes by 2-4 times.
If necessary, we will do it again!
Is this what Powerball officials are thinking at the moment? It seems so since they are going to implement brand new changes. The Multi-State Lottery Association decided to make the Power Play option even stronger. Starting January 22nd 2014, this multiplier will be able to boost the value of any non-jackpot Powerball prize, multiplying it by 2, 3, 4, or 5, depending on the randomly selected Power Play number of the respective draw.
The Power Play will continue to double the $1 million second prize so that its winner cashes in an amazing $2 million if he had the inspiration to add the multiplying option on his tickets. However, those who match 4 Powerball lottery numbers and the red bonus number will be able to cash in up $50,000 instead of the regular $10,000.
Explaining the reasons behind these changes, Rose Hudson - Lottery President said:
"When Powerball changed back in 2012 to its current structure, the Power Play multiplier was removed in favor of set replacement prizes. Players let us know they much prefer the excitement of using a random multiplier to determine these prizes."
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