Jul 6, 2013, 8:47 am
Joseph T. Jones Jr. won $20.8 million in 1992 in a Pennsylvania Wild Card Lotto — $993,000 yearly for 21 years.
He just deposited the last check months ago.
"I didn't spend it all. I didn't lose it all," said Joe. His nickname for the last 20 years has been "Lotto."
"If I'm at the urinal at an Eagles game," he explains, "and one of my friends sees me, he'll yell, 'Yo, Lotto!' "
Joe, 61, is still selling office supplies, though work is a relative term. He visited two clients before he hit the golf course Wednesday at 9:50 a.m. Shot a 42 on the back nine.
Joe and his wife, Andrea, winter at their home near Naples, Fla. From May to October, they bounce between the Allentown area, where their grandchildren live, and a home on Long Beach Island.
Andy permits Joe an allowance every week of $200. If he takes more than that from a cash machine, he'd better have a good reason.
"The judge," he quips, meaning his wife, "will call me to the witness stand."
Joe didn't let the lottery ruin his life because he'd already let sports betting ruin it. He had a gambling addiction before he won, and it cost him his marriage, at least for a time.
It also nearly cost him the $20.8 million.
Joe discovered the winning ticket a year after he bought it — two days before it expired.
Joe loved buying lottery tickets. As long as he had a ticket, he had a shot. He just had no interest in checking whether he won.
Joe grew up at Fourth and York Streets in North Philadelphia. His grandfather played the daily number. His father played the daily number. Two uncles ran bars, and bookies were a ubiquitous part of Joe's life.
Joe played basketball at Archbishop Ryan High School, and friends called him "Wally" Jones after the 76ers star. In 1968, at 16, he was playing pickup basketball in the Brookwood section of Bensalem, where he was living at the time, and tasked with covering a girl, Andrea "Andy" Marcell, also 16.
He did more than cover her. He asked her out. And at 18, he married her.
The first in his family to attend college, Joe majored in accounting at La Salle University and took a job selling office supplies. They had three children, and Andy, whose mother had married five times, and who had lived for months in an orphanage, was deliriously happy as a stay-at-home mom.
In his 30s, said Joe, he began "making $175,000 selling file folders." They moved to their dream house on a hilltop in Slatington, near Allentown. But Joe had a secret life. He was blowing thousands a week gambling on college and pro football.
Sometimes losing $8,000 in a weekend.
Andy knew he gambled. She'd hear him on the phone saying "5" or "10" but she thought it meant $5 — not $500 or $5,000.
Joe's only brother also had a gambling problem. He wrote a suicide note and was found with a loaded gun. After that, Joe's father summoned both sons and their wives to an intervention. That's when Andy learned Joe had lost $40,000.
The trust was gone, and over the next few years, the marriage crumbled. Andy and Joe divorced Dec. 21, 1990, just shy of their 20th anniversary.
Joe was a family guy, and he'd lost it all.
Fifty-seven days after the divorce, Joe dropped the kids off after pizza. He and Andy were supposed to sign papers the next day to sell their dream house. But they collapsed in one another's arms.
"I wish I could explain it," says Andy.
Joe moved back in, but they didn't remarry. Andy felt they were living a lie, but Joe was in no hurry. The divorce had been bitter and costly. They lived as husband and wife, and life returned to normal.
Joe gave up sports gambling.
Andy permitted him to buy lottery tickets.
Joe bought them weekly for years — but rarely checked them.
At lunch last week in a restaurant on Long Beach Island, Joe was asked: How could he not check?
He was silent for the longest time and looked bewildered. "I can't answer that question," he said. "I really don't know."
After another pause, he added: "The rush is more important. Everyone dreams, including yourself."
Joe bought tickets and stuck them in shoe boxes in the basement.
On Nov. 20, 1993, a Saturday, Joe read a story in the Allentown paper headlined, "Whose lucky numbers? 4-13-25-28-35-47."
"Someone out there is holding a Wild Card Lotto ticket worth $20.8 million from Nov. 20, 1992. It will expire Monday if not claimed."
"It will be the largest jackpot ever unclaimed in Pennsylvania lottery history."
Joe continued to the sports pages.
He went upstairs and made the bed.
Then, then, he decided, "Maybe I should check."
He found the ticket. He did a Mummer's strut, still in his pajamas.
He told Andy, playing in a volleyball tournament.
She was euphoric — and terrified. Would money ruin their lives? Would his addiction return?
Joe and a friend drove to Harrisburg Saturday to claim his prize. He told the media, including this reporter, that he had been at an office supply convention in Arizona a year before and forgotten to check his tickets. He had been in Arizona, but it wouldn't have mattered.
After Joe won, Andy checked every one of Joe's lottery tickets — hundreds of which had expired. She collected $375 more.
Joe worked a few years, then retired at 43. But all his friends were still working. Andy was working as a legal secretary, a job she loved. The youngest child was still in school.
Joe had nobody to play with, so he watched television all day.
The inactivity nearly killed him. He developed adult-onset diabetes and needed a double bypass.
So he started his own office supply business with partners, and still works in sales for the company, Office Basics, that bought it.
After his bypass in 1998, Joe took Andy on a cruise. In St. Thomas, he told her to pick out the biggest diamond she could find. Andy had become quite a tennis player, and on Valentine's Day, 1999, Joe, being an office supply salesman, papered a tennis court with a giant, handwritten sign: "Will You Marry Me?"
Andy says, "Honestly, I was more thrilled with his proposal than winning the lottery. My Lotto equals our reconciliation." They remarried in April 2000.
Joe won $993,000 for 21 years, but each check, he said, was actually $596,000 — Uncle Sam took most of the rest. "I've paid more taxes than Fortune 500 companies," he said.
After winning, they were inundated by friends, strangers. Andy said she was "naive about how aggressive some people can be."
"We loved helping family and friends who needed money," Andy wrote recently in a memoir. "We enjoyed treating friends to lavish cruise trips, all-expense-paid vacations, cars, and helping our children in various ways."
Joe said he'd paid off his three homes and saved enough that he and Andy should be comfortable. He had three financial advisers at first, but now he's down to one — his son-in-law, a professional.
Joe golfed at St. Andrews in Scotland last year, one of the last things on his bucket list.
They still fly coach, and clean all three homes themselves, but they did make a concession to age this year and hired somebody to wash all 44 windows of their Shore house.
Joe said he will still on occasion place a bet, but typically for $20. He rarely plays the lottery, he says, though he loves to hear the winning numbers on television every night.
He knows he is among the luckiest people on the planet, though he laughs that by today's lottery standards, $20.8 million sounds small. As for the South Philadelphian who just won $131.5 million, and has yet to claim it, Joe chuckles. "He has no idea what he's in for!"
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