Lottery fever hits the rez, but not luck

By Noel Lyn Smith
Navajo Times

TSé BONITO, N.M., April 5, 2012

Text size: A A A

(Special to the Times - Donovan Quintero)

TOP: Winning Fruitland resident Raechel Halwood
BOTTOM: Carol Chester, left, and Dorinda Roan stand at the cash register and wait for their $120 worth of Mega Million lottery tickets Friday at the Conoco gas station in Tse Bonito, N.M. Roan and Chester and their co-workers teamed up and bought the tickets.

It was an unusual sight - long lines of people waiting to purchase lottery tickets for the record $641 million Mega Millions jackpot drawing held Friday night.

Ricky Begay, of Tuba City, was among those standing in line for a ticket at the Giant gas station here. Like all those interviewed for this story, he knew just want he'd do with the money he won.

Begay said if Lady Luck rolled his way, he would donate half of his winnings to the tribe because it has "no money," then help his church and buy toys and food for needy children.

Customer traffic was anything but normal in the hours leading up to the drawing Friday, with two lines that crisscrossed inside the convenience store.

The first ran between the candy aisles before curving along the store's main windows and out the front door, while the second line went along the soda fountain machines then weaved between nearby aisles.

"It's like they're waiting for beer on Sunday," quipped a man peeking in the window from outside.

Mary Lou Garcia, a nurse at Tséhootsooí Medical Center, waited in line to buy 20 tickets.

She said it was the possibility of winning the jackpot that sparked her interest and if she won, she would pay bills and help her family in the Philippines.

Next to her was Nickie Kelley, another hospital employee, who said part of her winnings would go to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital because "they don't turn any child away, regardless."

The scene clearly puzzled some people walking toward the store, especially as it grew significantly after 5 p.m.

"What's going on? Is something free in there?" one pedestrian said.

"I think they're buying lottery tickets," another man replied.

For Nate Tolino, of Crownpoint, 10 Quick Pick tickets were enough.

"I'm not too greedy, give everybody else a chance," he said.

Tolino has been playing Mega Millions and Powerball, another national lottery, for a decade but has yet to hit the top prize.

Being a seasoned player, he was not surprised by the sudden interest in the Mega Millions drawing.

"With the economy the way it is, everyone is hurting, losing their jobs and maybe a dollar will help them out if they win," he said.

If Tolino won, he would take the lump-sum payment and then help his church, the elderly and veterans.

"They deserve it," he said.

Dorinda Roan, of Klagetoh, Ariz., and Carol Chester, of Lupton, Ariz., were all smiles after purchasing 120 Quick Pick tickets for their office pool.

"Hopefully one of them is the lucky ticket," Roan said.

But, alas, no. Unfortunately for those who bought tickets here, the three winning tickets were sold in Illinois, Kansas and Maryland. The winning numbers were 2, 4, 23, 38, 46 and 23 for the Mega Ball.

The final jackpot was $656 million, even higher than the $640 million estimated at the time of the drawing. Split three ways that would yield an estimated $105 million after taxes for each winner.

The New Mexico Lottery reported that Raechel Halwood, of Fruitland, N.M., won $250,000 but missed the jackpot by not having the Mega Ball number on her quick pick ticket.

Halwood told the lottery office that she plans to take her family on a vacation in California, then invest her prize money.

New Mexico Lottery spokeswoman Linda Hamlin said the total ticket sales in New Mexico for the March 30 drawing was $3.64 million, peaking between 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. that day with an average of $5,550 tickets bought per minute.

There were three $250,000 winners in Arizona, according to the Arizona Lottery website.