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Florida Lottery player in The Villages has 44 million reasons to smile

Apr 21, 2006, 7:02 am

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Florida Lottery

From the fairways to coffee shops, retirees Thursday wondered: Who is the overnight multimillionaire?

News zipped from golf cart to golf cart in the retirement community that a convenience store there sold one of two winning tickets to Wednesday night's $87.9 million Florida Lotto jackpot.

"Our employees are all rattling about who it might be," said Teresa Gladstone, manager of the Circle K. "We know it was none of us."

The store quickly boasted the good fortune with a hand-written sign, just in case the $44 million winner walked through the door. But it may be weeks until the winner ends the mystery.

"I have found [winners] waiting at the door for me at 8 a.m. the next day, and sometimes winners wait months to call," lottery spokesman Alfred Bea said. "For a jackpot this size, they usually wait at least a few days. . . . We encourage them to consider what is happening to their lives."

By Thursday night, neither The Villages winner nor the owner of the other winning ticket sold in Port St. Lucie had surfaced.

But theories abound about their identities.

Circle K employees said many construction workers and day laborers buy tickets at the store. So do some of the 57,000 retirees in the community that spans three counties northwest of Orlando.

"They always say, 'sell me the winner,' " Gladstone said. "I always tell them I can't guarantee anything, but if it's a winner, we'll retire together."

She is keeping her fingers crossed.

"It could have been anybody," said Charles Amrine, a 59-year-old retiree, who works nights at the Sumter County store and plays golf during the day. "We're in an area with a lot of millionaires already. They know how to handle money. They are going to get their ducks in a row before they take the announcement to the street."

Winners have 180 days to claim the prize, and lottery officials advise them to wait at least a few days.

"We suggest they seek legal and financial advice first," spokesman Bea said.

Many people with losing tickets had free advice about what they would do with a $44 million windfall.

"If I'd won, I'd put it in a trust and not let anyone know I had it," retiree Ron Mettert, 68, said as he lounged on a shaded bench. "They may know my lifestyle, but I'd never tell them. You never know what long-lost relative might show up."

High ticket sales since Saturday added $5.9 million to the $82 million advertised jackpot. The busy Circle K store on County Road 466 sold about 5,000 of the 34 million tickets to the fourth-largest drawing in Florida Lotto history. The store attracts retirees, residents of nearby towns in Lake, Sumter and Marion counties, tourists and people who work in The Villages. Some customers bought 50 or 100 tickets at a time.

More than 529,000 other Lotto players matched some of the winning numbers: 12-13-17-27-32-36.

But something about The Villages seems lucky. In January, a Villages retiree won a $1.2 million Mega Money prize. In August, two Fantasy 5 tickets sold a week apart drew prizes worth $127,000 and $18,000, respectively.

With the odds stacked against winning 23 million-to-1, ticket holders like Ben Blouquist didn't rush to check.

"Somebody won at Circle K? I bought two tickets there," Blouquist said when he learned he might be the millionaire while having drinks with friends at a coffee shop.

His friend Mal Esbosito scoffed.

"He's got his numbers, but he doesn't want to look at them," Esbosito, 79, said with a chuckle. "If they matched, he'd pass out and die. It's better not to check than to be dead."

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