For James and Maxine Hilliker of Lumberton, North Carolina, a tradition of playing the lottery together led to a $768,862 Cash 5 jackpot win a week before their 70th wedding anniversary.
"Our wedding anniversary is next week and today is my 90th birthday," said James after receiving the big check. "I can't even believe this is real. I just can't believe it."
For the Hillikers, playing Cash 5 together is a weekly tradition that has become a special part of their morning routine.
"We go to the same store every Tuesday," said Maxine. "We always play the same numbers. I've been playing them for over 22 years in California, Florida and now North Carolina. We use my birthday, my husband's birthday, and the birthdays of my three sisters. We've never won anything big."
Little did the Hillikers know, when they stopped by the Sun-Do Kwik Shop on North Roberts Avenue in Lumberton and purchased a seven-day multidraw Cash 5 ticket, their fun tradition wouldn't feel quite as normal this time around.
James found out they had the only winning ticket for Saturday's drawing while reading the newspaper Monday morning. He didn't tell Maxine right away because he didn't want to spoil the surprise until they checked their numbers together, just like they do every morning.
"I always read them out to her," said James. "I call out the numbers and she writes them down and checks them."
Wanting to keep Maxine from noticing something was different this time, James started the routine with his favorite line.
"I told her, 'I think you're going to like these numbers today,'" said James recalling the moment. Maxine then said, like she always does, 'You always say that and we only ever match three numbers!' So I read them out and she looked shocked. Then she told me to read those again. So I read them out again."
"I told him that I had them all," said Maxine. "I had every single number."
The Hillikers claimed their prize Thursday at lottery headquarters in Raleigh. After required state and federal tax withholdings, they took home $543,970. They said they plan to take a cruise with the money, but are not sure what to do with the rest yet.
Cash 5 is a statewide draw game that gives players the chance to win a jackpot every single night. Tickets cost $1 and players can buy tickets at most lottery retailers or through Online Play on the lottery's website. The jackpot for Friday's drawing is $250,000.