White Oak customer hits jackpot

$149M Mega Millions ticket sold at store, but winner yet to claim prize

Her elbow on the counter, Michelle Blackwell rested her chin in her hand and gazed out at the racks of chips and beef jerky and coolers full of soft drinks.

Ms. Blackwell, a 36-year-old clerk at the White Oak Gas and Grocery on Fawcett Avenue, was picturing a vacation.

"Anywhere," she said. "I probably would have still come to work. I just wouldn't have come back after that."

Somebody had walked up to the same counter Ms. Blackwell was resting on and now has a slip of paper good for $149 million after Tuesday night's Mega Millions drawing in Atlanta, the Pennsylvania Lottery said.

As of Wednesday evening, the winner had yet to claim the prize.

The winning ticket matched all five white balls -- 10-40-63-64-69 -- and the Megaball of 7. The winner has one year to claim the prize, which may be taken in a lump sum of $86.1 million or 30 annual payments totaling $149 million, less taxes.

It's the first jackpot-winning Mega Millions ticket sold in Pennsylvania since 2010, when the state joined the game, which is played in 43 states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands. According to the Pennsylvania Lottery, more than 93,600 people in the state won prizes of varying amounts Tuesday night: from $1 all the way to the jackpot.

Gary Miller, a lottery spokesman, said the jackpot winner will be identified as soon as he or she comes forward.

"It's really up to the claimant," Mr. Miller said, noting that many winners choose to speak with an attorney or financial adviser before claiming the prize. "Some people choose to come right away, others may choose to get their affairs in order before presenting the claim."

The convenience store gets a reward of its own: a $100,000 bonus from the Pennsylvania Lottery.

"It's very exciting," said owner Naresh Shah. "It's our second store to hit a big one."

Mr. Shah said another store he owns in McKeesport sold a Match 6 ticket for a $400,000 prize and a Cash 5 ticket worth $197,000.

Rather than generating a flurry of business Wednesday, however, the stream of customers was slower than normal, Ms. Blackwell said. Some, shy of the media or wary of buying tickets on camera, were deterred by news trucks stationed in the parking lot, she said.

Of the customers who did brave television cameras and reporters, some were newly optimistic about their own chances. Others were simply envious of the big winner.

Bobette Smith of Wilkins said she was more likely to swing by for a ticket in hopes that the store's good luck hadn't run out. "I don't have to have it all, just a little donation would help," she said.

She might have asked for a bigger donation.

Minutes later, wearing a wry grin, Mrs. Smith came out of the store with $12 in Powerball winnings.

Heather Smith of McKeesport has never won. She plays Pick 3 and Pick 4 and always picks the same numbers: 5, 3 and 7 and 12 and 21, respectively.

"I wish I was related to them," Mrs. Smith, 38, said of the $149 million winner. "I don't need the big money. Just a little bit."

Her daughter, Raykel Smith, said she is eager to play when she turns 18 in two years. Until then, she keeps her fingers crossed for her mother, who would use the money to pay bills, she said.

Ms. Blackwell, who also regularly plays Mega Millions, hoped she had bought the winning ticket. After the news broke that it had been sold at her store, she fielded one call after another from friends and relatives.

"Everybody's been calling," she said. "It wasn't me."

She opted instead to root for her customers, quipping that the clerk to sell the winning ticket should be rewarded with a raise. Ms. Blackwell said the store hasn't yet been told what time the ticket was sold or on what day, though there's a good chance she knows the person if it was bought on her shift.

"Our customer base, it's just about the same people every day," she said. "I love the people that come in. I just want to see somebody hit it that can use it, so it's well-deserved."

For every dollar spent on a Mega Millions ticket in Pennsylvania, about 50 cents goes to paying prizes, 40 cents goes to support benefits for elderly Pennsylvanians and 10 cents goes to retailer and vendor commissions, a prize reserve fund and operational costs, according to the Pennsylvania Lottery.

All proceeds from the lottery's various other games go to programs that benefit the elderly, including property-tax and rent rebates, free and reduced-fare transportation, low-cost prescription drug programs and senior centers around the state, among others.

Robert Zullo: rzullo@post-gazette.com, 412-263-3909 or on Twitter @rczullo; Isaac Stanley-Becker: istanley-becker@post-gazette.com First Published May 21, 2014 12:24 PM

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