'Still in complete shock'
LINDEN, N.J. — Lacey Katona cut short the event announcing her $5 million lottery prize this morning, calling for an end to questions on how she'd spend her windfall so that she could get to her job as a retail manager.
Katona is the first person to win $5 million, the largest prize offered, on a New Jersey Lottery instant ticket, a reality she said hasn't quite sunk in yet.
"My family just feels truly blessed," she said, standing outside the Krauszer's Food Mart where she bought her winning ticket. "I feel truly blessed. I'm still in complete shock. It doesn't feel real at all, because we all know that this stuff doesn't happen to normal people."
Lottery officials today presented Katona with an oversized check representing her winnings, one of three top prizes on the new $5,000,000 Cash Extravaganza scratch ticket game.
The $30 instant ticket was launched Jan. 5, with an extra $179 million available to smaller-scale winners, in addition the three $5 million prizes.
"We are thrilled to offer an instant game with a life-changing top prize to our New Jersey players," said Carole Hedinger, executive director of the New Jersey Lottery. "Instantly, as this game category implies, with the scratch of a card, someone's life can dramatically change and bring a world of opportunity that financial freedom often brings."
Katona, a city resident, hasn't planned any dramatic changes just yet. The mother of three said her kids don't know about the prize, since they're too young to understand.
She intends to keep her job and hasn't figured out at this point how she'll spend the money.
"It literally hasn't sunk in yet," she said.
The ticket was also lucky for store owner Apexaben Patel, who receives a $30,000 commission bonus for selling a winner.
Her Krauszer's Food Mart at 1114 South Wood Avenue has been selling New Jersey Lottery products for around 5 years.
Patel accepted the commission check with her husband Amusik, their daughter Prisha and Amusik's cousin Nick, the store manager. Amusik Patel called 5-month-old Prisha the family's "lucky charm."
This is the store's largest lottery prize, though it's sold tickets worth thousands of dollars before, the Patels said.
"This is a lucky store in Linden, and hopefully we're going to sell more, more big winners," Nick Patel said.
He said the family will put the $30,000 commission toward expanding their business with a new store.
"We're planning to open a new business in another area, and I would like to see us sell a big winner there, too," he said, with a laugh.
The Patels said they were happy to see the $5 million go to a regular customer. Katona said she regularly stops in on her way to work, sometimes buying instant lottery tickets for her father, a frequent player.
"I see him do it so often that it gets encouraging after a while," Katona said.
The winning ticket was the first of the $30 instant variety she'd bought, and she said she had her father go back to the store to "check it out" when she scratched off a $5 million prize.
Nick Patel said he couldn't believe it when the winning ticket came in.
"I screamed, like 'Oh my god, we got a big winner,'" he said. "It's good for her, good for her kids."
(Click to display full-size in gallery)