When Judith Tate showed up at Ron's Liquors in San Jose Thursday for a "community party" to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the California Lottery, she thought she might win $1,000.
Instead, the 64-year-old retired accounting supervisor was handed a check with three extra zeros. Yup. A cool $1 million.
"Oh my God," Tate repeated in front of a gaggle of lottery executives, some of them tearing up just like her. She buried her face in her hands, and then turned to her 41-year-old son, Will Moore, and buried her face in his chest.
"You OK?" he asked his mother. Then he gently instructed her: "Breathe. Breathe. Breathe."
Tate caught her breath for a moment, her cheeks still flushed with excitement.
"This does not say $1,000!" she said, faking outrage and fanning herself with her fingertips. "This is surreal."
As she does regularly, Tate recently bought a $5 Scratchers ticket from the liquor store on Flickinger Avenue. But she didn't win.
So Tate re-entered her serial numbers online at www.calottery.com/replay as part of the lottery's Replay game, which started in 2009 and randomly draws winners from used tickets that didn't win, according to lottery spokeswoman Kelly Kell. Until now, winners only received prizes of $1,000, Kell said.
Kell said lottery officials lured Tate to Thursday's celebration under the guise that she, too, was just a regular Replay winner.
But Tate's Scratchers card was special. It was randomly chosen as the grand prize draw, the biggest Replay amount the lottery has ever given away in this game of second chances. Tate becomes the 1,960th millionaire created by the lottery since it began operations on Oct. 3, 1985, according to lottery literature.
As for her plans on how she'll spend the money, Tate could barely breathe, let alone think clearly about what she'll do.
"I don't know," she said, adding that she had actually never really thought she'd win a lottery prize that big. She couldn't even decide whether she'd dine out tonight. She called her husband from the party to tell him she won, and even though it was hard to hear him over the screaming in the liquor store, she thinks he told her "congratulations." He's very private, Tate said. But, she joked, "You'd think he would have left work."
Tate brought two of her three grown children with her. Her son, Brandon, a Marine, didn't attend, as he has recently returned from a tour of duty overseas. But she brought Moore and daughter Michelle Tate, both of whom said their mother is a giving, loving woman who deserves this prize.
Moore said he wants his mother to travel, as she has spent her entire life helping others, no questions asked.
"We're going to enjoy watching her spend her money," Michelle Tate said.
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