Lottery pays off for three lucky winners

Thursday, April 18, 2002

ATLANTA -- Erika Greene almost forgot to buy her Big Game tickets Tuesday night, remembering to go to the store around 8:30 p.m. for the drawing at 11.

That's when the squinting and screaming began.

"I said, 'I know I'm seeing this wrong. It's got to be wrong,"' she said about closely examining the numbers on the ticket.

Her mother confirmed the winning combination -- 7, 10, 25, 26, 27 and the Big Money Ball 23 -- and the screaming ensued.

The 20-year-old warehouse worker from Dacula was one of three winners of the $331 million jackpot.

No one had stepped forward with the other winning tickets, which were sold in Burbank, Ill., and Union County, N.J.

Each of the three winning tickets is worth $110,333,333, but ticket buyers can choose payments over 26 years or a smaller, one-time sum.

Cash option chosen

Greene chose the cash option and will receive $58,938,743 before taxes.

She said she had never played the lottery before buying 10 tickets with the last $10 in her pocket Tuesday, but she beat the 76 million-to-1 odds.

Greene said she plans to buy some land and a car and invest most of the money but hasn't made a thorough shopping list yet.

The jackpot was the second-largest in U.S. history. In 2000, two winners split $363 million in the Big Game, which is played in Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey and Virginia.

The first person Greene called was her boyfriend, Mike Swofford, and her mother had to dial the numbers for her because she was shaking too much.

"I think I said, 'Baby, I won!"' but he didn't believe her at first, she said.

Swofford joined Greene at a Georgia Lottery news conference, along with her mother, stepfather, two neighbors, a limousine driver and a local police escort. Greene said she isn't sure how the money will affect her plan to live a quiet life as a housewife, but she hopes the attention doesn't get too bad.

"Hopefully, there's not going to be a bunch of people at the house," she said.

Greene almost ran into lottery officials at 6 a.m. when she and her mother visited the Dacula Texaco station where she bought the winning ticket. The officials had just left after telling manager Neeraj Dutta, that his store had sold a winner -- earning the store $25,000.

"She was very calm, just asked for a pack of Marlboro menthols," Dutta said. "I asked her if she had bought Big Game tickets here, because we had sold the winning ticket. She said to me, 'What would you do if I told you I have the winning ticket?' I thought she was kidding."

Large jackpots could become even more frequent next month when New York and Ohio join the Big Game, which will be called Mega Millions. Washington state will be added in September.

In addition to the jackpot Wednesday, 77 tickets matched all five numbers, but not the Big Money ball, and those are worth $150,000.

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