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Cover Story

A tale of 3 tickets

2/3/2016

You’re more likely to be struck by lightning while drowning than you are to strike it rich playing Powerball. Nevertheless, the recent lottery jackpot had Iowans feverish to buy.

Iowa Lottery players, hungry to claim the $1.6 billion jackpot, bought more than $12 million in Powerball tickets for the drawing on Jan. 13. During the busiest sales stretch, tickets in Iowa were selling at a rate of nearly $13,800 per minute.

Despite the mind-bending odds, millions of players forked over a few of their hard-earned dollars for that minuscule chance of matching all six Ping-Pong balls and a chance at a “new” life.

There are winning tickets, and there are losing tickets, each holding the power to take its owner on a roller coaster of ups and downs of varying extremes. They are the things dreams can be made of.

Cityview took a look at three tickets and the lives they changed.

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Ticket No. 1  — The winners
You might have heard the story of Brian and Mary Lohse, the couple from Bondurant who won a $200 million Powerball prize in 2012. They’ve used the money to help fund the town’s high school football stadium, their church’s new sanctuary and even built a grocery store — Brick Street Market and Cafe — because Bondurant needed one.

The couple is generous with their time as well. Brian says he’ll soon be heading to Haiti on a mission trip with his church — First Federated of Bondurant — to help a school in need.

Their story is heart-warming, one every lottery winner wishes he or she could recount.

Mary plunked down the $4 and made her best purchase ever at a local convenience store. But like a lot of lotto winners, she never thought she’d actually win. As a matter of a fact, she didn’t bother to look at the ticket until the day after the drawing. When she realized she held the winner, she couldn’t believe her eyes, so she checked again… and again…. and again.

Brian was in Portland, Oregon, on a business trip at the time. When Mary first told him, he didn’t believe it either.“Until he saw on the news that the winner was from Bondurant,” says Mary.

She tried sending him a picture of the ticket, but it took six hours for the picture to go through, she remembers.

Seeing is believing, though, and when Brian finally did see the picture, he was stunned.

But then what? In Mary’s hand was a little slip of paper in which the dollar amount represented more money than the gross domestic product of at least a few small countries. Brian instructed her to hightail it to an attorney — it was time to collect $200 million.

The attorney made sure the ticket went directly into a safe deposit box where it sat for a week or so while the couple could put the proper planning measures in place.

“We didn’t even have a will,” Brian laughs.

Once the legal measures were done, the couple took the ticket to Iowa Lottery headquarters where it was scanned by a machine. Any lingering doubts were put to rest when the machine declared: “WOOHOO! You’re a winner.”

Marg and Brian Lohse of Bondurant won a $200 million Powerball prize in 2012. Courtesy of Iowa Lottery

Marg and Brian Lohse of Bondurant won a $200 million Powerball prize in 2012. Courtesy of Iowa Lottery

“Then you go back into a little room and meet with security and sign paperwork — including the back of the ticket — then you go meet the press,” Brian recounts.

Once in the hands of the Iowa Lottery, it’s guarded like a crown jewel.

“Once the ticket is turned in to us, we keep it for security reasons,” says Mary Neubauer, Iowa lottery’s vice president of external telations. “We can give the winners a photocopy of it if they like, but we keep the original. In the case of the actual ticket, we keep it for three years as required for record retention, and then (the ticket) is shredded as part of a secure document destruction process.”

The physical ticket is destroyed, but it’s then reborn in the form of the famous, oversized cardboard check the winners are photographed with. Of course, the big check isn’t real.  Most lottery winners get two checks — one that’s real and for depositing, and another that’s ceremonial and only for pictures.

“I always tell people that the big check is their evidence that they won, since they have to put the real check in the bank,” Neubauer says. “The oversized check wouldn’t fit in the ATM very well.”

In the case of the biggest jackpot winners, she adds, a check isn’t an option due to the amound of money involved. In those cases the lottery does a wire transfer to a brokerage account instead.

Neubauer also says an all-cash payment on a payout that large would be difficult.

“I don’t think it would even be possible to gather that many millions of dollars in cash,” she says. “Banks have limits on even requesting thousands of dollars, let alone millions of dollars in cash. And can you imagine how much security we would have to have for that?”

The Lohses used a portion of their winnings to help their small but growing community. Their biggest endeavor so far has been the Brick Street Market and Café — the grocery store they always wished Bondurant had.

Neubauer has been with the lottery for many years and estimates she’s met with 70 winners or so of $1 million or more. She thinks a lot of the Bondurant couple.

“Truly, I think they have handled their lottery winning as well as anybody could. They’ve helped their community and are handling it with respect and appreciation,” Neubauer says. “Kudos to them for everything they’ve done.”

The Brick Street Market shares the couple’s values. The store employs approximately 90 people, the grocery carts have wheels designed to withstand the outdoors so they won’t wobble, and the staff carries groceries to customers’ vehicles and loads them, too.

“We’re here to be Bondurant’s grocery store, but not a super store,” Brian says. “Our focus is getting to know our customer and serving them better.”

The store was built by the power of their ticket, but the gesture came from the love in their heart of their community.

Ticket No. 2 – The losers
By all appearances, it’s the best of times in Bondurant. The Lohses’ ticket benefited them and their community. But, of course, money isn’t the answer to everything.

Madonna Swartz and husband Robert won $7.24 million in 1988. They eventually divorced and went to court over who should get what. The courts sided with Robert, and the money was split evenly. Courtesy of Iowa Lottery

Madonna Swartz and husband Robert won $7.24 million in 1988. They eventually divorced and went to court over who should get what. The courts sided with Robert, and the money was split evenly. Courtesy of Iowa Lottery

On Aug. 27, 1988, Madonna Swartz of Cumming became Iowa’s second Lotto America jackpot winner. She’d picked the winning numbers and made the purchase at the Dahl’s grocery store on Fleur. When she and her husband, Robert, stepped forward to claim the prize of $7.24 million, it was the biggest prize in state history to that point.

Winning large sums of money doesn’t always lead to a happy ending, however. Money can’t fix a broken life.

Divorce is a modern reality, but in 1985, the lottery was fairly new to Iowa. When the Swartzes eventually divorced, there wasn’t a legal precedent setting the standard as to  who should get what. The Iowa courts had to decide if a married couple wins the lottery while they are married, who gets the loot when they divorce? Is the money split evenly? Or does the person who chose the numbers and purchased the ticket get a bigger share?

In 1985, Terry Branstad signed a bill that legalized Iowa’s lottery. Courtesy of Iowa Lottery

In 1985, Terry Branstad signed a bill that legalized Iowa’s lottery. Courtesy of Iowa Lottery

Enter the Swartzes.

One dollar. According to court records, that’s what Madonna paid to purchase the ticket. Since she made the purchase, she figured the net annual payments — $271,500 during a 20-year span — were hers, and then she’d be required pay alimony to Bob.

Bob, of course, thought differently. He assumed there should be an even split.

The Swartz case set a new state legal precedent. The courts agreed with Bob, and the money was split equally.

Ticket No. 3  — Almost
Imagine you’re watching TV, the ping-pong balls are popping.

Vana Cowdis got five of the six Powerball numbers correct and won $100,000. Courtesy of Iowa Lottery

Vana Cowdis got five of the six Powerball numbers correct and won $100,000. Courtesy of Iowa Lottery

The first is a match. The second one, too. Wait a second, the third matches.

Now your heart’s pounding.

The fourth is a match.

And then it happens. The fifth number is unveiled and… nothing.

Your hopes were high, only to come away with zilch.

Well, maybe.

Sometimes in Powerball, “almost” is good enough. Just ask Vana Crowdis. She “almost” won the big one.

Missing out on a giant jackpot can be agonizing, but for Crowdis, another “almost” left her very grateful. Crowdis entered a $41 million drawing then put the ticket in her purse and forgot about it.

“We went shopping one day and had a friend check the lottery ticket,” she says. “I had it in my purse from a long time ago.”

The ticket had five correct numbers but missed out on the sixth and crucial Powerball. Still, this “almost” resulted in a $100,000 windfall for Crowdis.

WHERE THE MONEY GOES

WHERE THE MONEY GOES

“We decided to do a few nice things (with the money),” she says. “I bought each of the kids something they needed or wanted. I bought dinner for family and friends at Famous Dave’s. Out of that money, I made a $40,000 down payment on the house I live in now.”

Crowdis enjoyed her luck for a little bit, but then she got down to business.

“They took a picture of me holding one of those checks. Then I had to go to work,” she says. One hundred thousand dollars sure is great, but you can’t retire on it.” CV

Stats and facts

Players must be at least 21 years of age to purchase lottery tickets in Iowa.

46 states have a lottery.

Gov. Terry Branstad signed the Lottery Bill into law on April 18, 1985. Sales started at the Iowa State Fair 111 days later.

Iowa Powerball estimates there are 2,500 retail locations in Iowa.

U.S. citizens are subject to tax on all income that amounts to more than $600, including gambling wins. The jackpots advertised are the amount that a winning player would receive if he or she chose the “annuity option,” but even this amount would be subject to Federal and State income taxes with every payment.

The Ping-Pong balls used for the Powerball’s drawing are only used for Powerball — never for Ping-Pong. They are weighed and X-rayed regularly, but they are not replaced unless they show wear. The balls stay locked in a vault with the drawing machines when not in use, and are only used under the supervision of an independent auditor.

Credit cards may not be used to purchase lottery tickets.

If you lose a winning ticket, there is nothing you or anyone can do, so keep any of your lottery tickets in a safe place. Also, always sign the back of your ticket and add your details, as most lottery claims won’t require any proof of purchase to be shown. Essentially, whoever has the ticket legally owns it.

One year is the longest any state, Iowa included, gives you to cash a winning ticket.

All state lotteries conduct public drawings. Anyone can watch a drawing and see the process. High-tech machines are used to ensure that lotteries are completely fair. Measures such as the weighing of lottery balls, the use of multiple balls and using secure printing and distribution facilities are all taken, so you can be sure that all US lotteries are completely random.

The odds of winning the Powerball are 1 in 292 million.

Since the lottery’s start in 1985, its players have won more than $3.5 billion in prizes while the lottery has raised more than $1.6 billion for the state programs that benefit Iowans. CV

FACT: National Endowment for Financial Education estimates that 70 percent of people who unexpectedly come into large sums of money end up broke within seven years.

By the numbers

Some people use important dates to choose their numbers, like their kids’ birthdays, wedding anniversaries or any numbers of significance. Many let the computer auto pick for them. Different lotteries around the country have different options to help choose numbers. For instance, Lottery USA actually provides a resident “numerologist” named Michelle who will use your astrological sign to determine your lucky digits for you.

Lottery USA is also kind enough to provide a “Lucky Lottery Number Generator.”

Math geeks and statisticians seem to agree:There is no method of number selection to effectively increase your chances of winning the jackpot. CV

Still there

According to the Iowa Lottery website, many prizes are still unclaimed. CV

 

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