Many people fantasize about the lottery offering a one-way ticket to limitless leisure, to a life of big houses, fancy cars, lavish cruises, endless shopping sprees and a chance to snarl adios to a nagging boss.
That lap of luxury lifestyle might be within reach if you win big, like Jeff Wilson of Kings Mountain did several weeks ago when he came forward with the Powerball ticket worth $88.1 million.
Wilson, 27, a UNC-Charlotte alumnus who took the lump sum payment of $42.4 million, a cool $28.8 million after taxes, said at the time that he might buy a house, a car, a few fast boats, take a few friends to Hawaii and help put his nephew through school.
Most of the state's lottery winners, though, get nowhere near the Powerball jackpot sum that Wilson did. Only one other person, Jackie Alston of Halifax, has won the jackpot since the game launched May 30, 2006. That $74.5 million win in November 2006 brought her a lump sum payment worth $28 million after taxes.
In all, the lottery has paid out 11.14 million claims for Powerball for a total $260 million, according to Pam Walker, communications director for the North Carolina Education Lottery. Of those other winners, 150 have claimed prizes between $200,000 and $2 million.
Carolina Cash 5, which launched May 30, 2006, has brought 11.5 million claims for payment of more than $71.9 million.
One of those winners was Jeffrey Posey, 48, of Greensboro. On June 25, 2008, Posey won $191,250 in the Cash 5 drawing, and after taxes, he took home nearly $130,000.
"That's pretty good," Posey said recently. "But it wasn't so much that it was going to change my life."
Posey, who works in research and development at Lorillard Tobacco, paid off a few bills, bought a 2008 Mustang and spent a little more than he might have otherwise furnishing a new townhome. Most, he said, was socked away in interest-earning investments.
With hopes of duplicating his good fortune, Posey went back to the same convenience store on the anniversary of his successful purchase and played 5-9-16-18-22 on another Carolina Cash 5 ticket. The numbers correspond to the letters in his nickname — Piper — and they won him a comfortable cash cushion in 2008.
But not this year. The odds were against him.
Slim chances, though, don't stop Wilson "Butch" Bottorf, another 2008 Carolina Cash 5 winner, from putting down at least a few dollars every day on a lottery ticket at the same Bryson City convenience store where he bought his big winner.
On Friday the 13th in June, 2008, Bottorf, a retired electrician, matched all five white balls and won the top prize of $429,792.
He has paid off his $80,000 mortgage and $30,000 in medical bills for his wife who died that year. He bought a new Dodge truck with special adaptations for his disabilities.
He spent $3,000 on a used convertible — a longtime dream. Bottorf, 66, also remodeled his house and paid off creditors, but he put most of his winnings in certificates of deposit and money market accounts.
"Believe it or not, no relative has come holding their hand out for money," Bottorf said.
But that's not always the case.
Walker, as spokeswoman for the N.C. Education Lottery, hears about a lot of phone disconnections among lottery winners.
"They're either bombarded with calls from people like the media or general public," Walker said, "and then I think they tend to be bombarded with sales propositions or charity requests."
Steve Granger, 56, of Henderson is a three-time lottery winner who knows about all the calls that come with instant success.
"I get calls, and I get cards from people. They want to know if I'm feeling lucky," Granger said.
As a three-time winner, Granger has developed a system that works for him. Although he sometimes plays in North Carolina, his winning tickets have come from Virginia. He watches the numbers for patterns, then buys multiple tickets when he thinks he sees trigger points.
"I get a feeling for them and then hope it's not heartburn," Granger said.
In September 2005, he won $900,000 in a Cash 5 drawing and took home about $600,000 after taxes. In April, playing a Pick 4 game, he won $90,800, and in May, again with Pick 4, he pulled in another $65,800.
"The odds are better in Virginia," Granger said.
Granger also knows the pitfalls that await lottery winners. Good luck can go bad fast, and a windfall can be blown in no time.
His life hasn't changed much since the first big win. He and his wife still work. They invest their winnings in the stock market and certificates of deposit with an eye toward a more comfortable retirement.
"This is just a hobby for me," Granger said. "If I win, great. You just have to be careful. You can't go in having to win."
Thanks to JordanT1021 for the tip.