Red Bud, Illinois Moto Mart store manager Denise Metzger looks at an oversized check given to her by lottery officials Saturday morning March 31, 2012. They visited the convenience store in this town of about 3,700 residents to verify that her store had indeed sold one of the three winning Mega Millions lottery tickets. The jackpot of 640 million established a new record, and may grow slightly larger as late ticket purchases are added in to the total. The oversize check Metzger holds shows the amount each of the winners could get after the three-way split from Friday night's Mega Millions drawing. The other winning tickets were sold in Maryland and Kansas. (AP Photo/Belleville News-Democrat, Tim Vizer)
Updated: April 2, 2012 10:44AM
RED BUD, Ill. — Like every Mega Millions ticketholder, paramedic Dan Parrott let himself imagine all the cool stuff the world-record $640 million jackpot would buy — a new house, a new car, even new ambulances and a new stationhouse for his employer. But his dreams imploded Saturday when his $40 worth of tickets paid out just five bucks.
Not so for someone else in southern Illinois’ sleepy Red Bud, a tiny farming community of just 3,700.
Giddiness swept through the town of German descent some 40 miles southeast of St. Louis with word that one of the three winning tickets — each worth more than $213 million — was sold at the MotoMart convenience store along Main Street. The other tickets were sold in Kansas and Maryland.
The estimated jackpot — the biggest prize ever in Illinois Lottery history — dwarfs the previous $390 million record split in 2007 by two winners who bought tickets in Georgia and New Jersey.
“It’s just unbelievable. Everyone is wanting to know who it is,” said Denise Metzger, manager of the MotoMart that gets $500,000 for selling the local winning ticket. “All day yesterday, I was selling tickets and I was hoping someone from Red Bud would win.
“I’m sure there’s not one person in this town that couldn’t use the money.”
The lucky individual kept to the shadows Saturday as Red Bud residents publicly speculated whether the mystery winner was someone they knew — chances were good in a small town — or someone just passing through, perhaps en route to work or to visit an inmate at the maximum-security prison just down Illinois Route 3.
The anonymity won’t last forever. Winners of large jackpots in Illinois often are legally compelled by the state’s lottery to come forward during the year they have to claim the prize, Illinois Lottery spokesman Mike Lang said. Only rarely would the lottery agree to shield the winner’s identity, he said.
A bleary-eyed Lang, smoking while addressing reporters, appeared eager to meet the local winner in Friday night’s drawing. Never mind that Lang was up all night, knowing someone had hit on the jackpot in Illinois but unable to share the news with Red Bud’s MotoMart until all Mega Millions states had processed their tickets.
The oversized, ceremonial check sat in Lang’s van, waiting to meet its owner and counsel that person about the two options when cashing in — take the $154,031,359 lump-sum payout or get $8.2 million annually over 26 years, both before taxes. If the ticket isn’t redeemed within 60 days, the payout automatically defaults to the yearly option.
Red Bud, named for prairie flora that blooms in the spring and early summer, had gone unnoticed before Saturday’s instant global spotlight. Metzger basked in it, burning up cellphone minutes and pushing bronchitis-strained vocal cords during interviews with everyone from the BBC to major U.S. television networks and The Associated Press.
It was a surreal scene: Locals streaming into the MotoMart to check their tickets while a live CNN report about the jackpots — in Red Bud and elsewhere — blared on a television set mounted above the counter.
Metzger cheerily greeted them all, counseling the patrons and their endless unlucky-in-lottery stories with one of her own.
“I didn’t even get one number,” said Metzger, who had hoped her $20 in tickets would pay for an RV she could drive across America.
James Sitzes was equally disappointed as he emerged from the MotoMart, where he found his six plays had flopped. That dashed any hopes he had of taking the lump-sum payout, paying off the house, shedding any remaining debt and just investing the rest. And he would have given away his shop.
“I bought them at the right place,” shrugged the 70-year-old semi-retired operator of a small plating shop. “I just didn’t have the right numbers.”
“That’s cool,” a reporter replied.
“No, it’s not,” Sitzes fired back. “I’ve been thinking for years what I’d do with all that money.
“As far as going out and buying a new Lamborghini, Ferraris and a big yacht, no. That’s not me,” he said.
Others were kicking themselves for not giving Friday night’s drawing a shot.
“I just didn’t like the odds,” said David Babbitt, a 26-year-old Red Bud native who works on his grandmother’s farm.
He said if he ever won a jackpot, he’d “get the hell out of here.”
“I usually just play stupid scratch-offs,” he said, sitting behind the wheel of his 1998 Ford Escort parked outside the MotoMart. “But I can’t kick myself — my knees are messed up.”