Well, my trip to the Lottery Headquarters is an interesting story, but long.
So the short story for tl;dr people: it was a bit depressing, actually.
The long story with interesting details:
I know that my vision of balloons everywhere - outside on a sign, indoors with fake large checks... I mean, I always see balloons/balloon rainbows in the ads, behind the winners, and in interviews - was an probably an exaggeration of the way things would look, but the truth was worse!
Besides the fact the building was boring and next to some manufacturing plants, I parked and saw an awning "Claims". Not very exciting, kinda 'pawn shop-ish'. Hmm.
First impression walking in: first thing I see.... two people sleeping in chairs, a set of "stay in line" ropes in front of bullet-proof windows, and to my right - some cheap chairs that have seen better days next to an extremely dirty table. I actually wondered if some people in there were homeless. Totally awe-inspiring.
I discovered the table was dirty from scratch-offs. The pens to fill out the claim form were attached to the table. I had to clean an area in order to fill out the form without bumps.
However..... I think my impression was tainted by that couple sleeping in the chairs. It gave a depressing, homeless feel to the place. Had I not seen them immediately, my impression might have been slightly more favorable.
Yet, after a woman with a baby cut in front of me, the woman behind the bullet-proof glass was very nice, sweet, and helpful. She took my driver's license and ss card, along with the claim sheet and scratch-off ticket. She told me it would take 15 minutes to process the check.
Ah... so that's why that couple was sleeping in the chairs... they were waiting for their check! And as for the dirt...well, the office had a great racket going: while you wait for your money, you can buy MM, PB, or scratch-offs! And so many people did, spending the money they were waiting there for, rubbing off more tickets for dreams of winning the really big one.
When I got called back to the window, which was actually less than 15 minutes (bonus points for them!), I asked some questions and discovered some interesting things... BUT FIRST an incredible story: I went to the window and she handed me the back of a scratch-off and said "You forgot to sign the back." Well, I knew I had signed mine and I looked at the ticket and noticed it had a different name written in print. Being the wonderful, truthful person I am, I said, "Um, that's not my ticket. I thought you called my name." Well, a woman who was sitting in a chair vacated by a sleeping person jumped up and hurried to the window. Apparently, she had called both our names and had our stuff together. I stood by the next window while she finished up with the woman. What I thought was really interesting.... since you give your ID's when you arrive, you don't need to show it when you pick up your check. Literally, I could have signed for that woman and taken the check (which was probably 95% chance it was bigger than my check), and walked out the door. Granted, I would have been caught, probably jailed, blah, blah. The point was, I could have been anybody picking up the check since I didn't need to show proof. Now THAT was interesting.
So what I learned from the clerk: *This is for North Carolina!!*
1. You don't pay federal taxes unless your win is over $5,000.
2. If you win $600 or less, you don't even have to pay for state taxes. Even if you bring in 10 scratch-offs that won $600 each, for a total of $6,000, it doesn't matter. Once a single win is $601 - then you pay state taxes.
3. If you won over $100,000, you are taken to a different room.
4. She didn't know anything about LLC's, what they were, or if I could claim a big win using one. Again, that's only known by the people who work in the "big winners" room.
5. I did forget to ask if I could refuse getting my picture taken, since they weren't clamoring to take it anyway. In fact, I don't even know if "that room" even had a camera. I'm sure the "$100K+ winner" room did. Maybe those $5,000 winners I see on the website went to a different regional office. I'm just glad I didn't have to deal with that.
6. Note: the clerk was surprised I brought my ss card, giving me the impression I would have gotten the money anyway. It said it was needed on the website, but maybe it really isn't?
So my dreams/visions of balloons being everywhere.... I'll just continue dreaming they are in the "other" winning room at the headquarters... for now.