One of the most famous names in New York started out as a bookkeeper in Brooklyn. Little did Yolanda Antequera know that one day, she would be introducing herself nightly as "Yolannnn daVegaaaa," the most well-known spokeswoman for the New York Lottery.
Born in Brooklyn in 1960, Yolanda had a typical childhood that she says was greatly influenced by a "close-knit, loving family" that included her five sisters. She attended Hunter College and received a bachelor's degree in economics in 1982.
"I love crunching numbers," she said. "I wanted to work for the state, in tax and finance or something like that."
Yolanda began working as a bookkeeper, and would often make weekend trips to Albany to visit a friend. It was on one of these excursions that she met Miguel Vega, whom she married in 1986.
"Miguel is a state trooper, and he's stationed in Albany, so he said, 'If you're going to marry me, you have to move up here,' and I did," she said.
Four years later, while she was working in the accounting department at a bagel company, a friend encouraged her to attend an audition being held by the Lottery for on-air personalities. Four other women were competing for the position.
"These girls were hot, and I thought there was no way in heck I was going to be picked," she said. "So I was very relaxed and nonchalant. The next day they called me and told me I had the job."
Vega's first day as the Lottery's on-air emcee was Feb. 5, 1990. It didn't take long for her to invent a calling card. One evening she went on air and introduced herself as "Yolannnn daVegaaaa." She said that initially, her boss wasn't happy with the prolonged pronunciation, but for her it was an expression of pride in her Puerto Rican heritage, and it stuck.
Soon after, she became pregnant with her first child and had to choose between her two jobs. She decided to leave the accounting position and focus on some smaller figures — the winning numbers that she has now been announcing every evening for more than 16 years.
"I love working for the state of New York. It's a great opportunity to participate in events all over the state and reach out to people," she said. "I see myself with the Lottery for as long as they'll have me."
She said that one of the greatest experiences she has had with the Lottery was in 2000, when she announced a $112 million jackpot on the 110th floor of the World Trade Center.
In addition to calling the winning numbers, Yolanda presents winners at press conferences and makes appearances at events from the Special Olympics to county fairs. Despite her devotion, she says that family is her top priority, and she's humble about her high profile.
"First and foremost, I am my daughters' mom. I don't consider myself a celebrity. I'm a state worker," she said.
"A lot of people think that because I give away the millions, I make the millions."
In fact, her salary is just over $64,000 a year.
Yolanda Vega facts
- Born: 1960, Brooklyn
- Family: Husband, Miguel, a state trooper; and two daughters, 14 and 15
- Education: B.A. in economics, Hunter College
- Favorite food: Seafood
- Favorite sport: Baseball
- Favorite singer: Marc Anthony
- Favorite author: Stephen King
- Hobbies: Bowling and working out