'You go to a different section of the bank' and other things you might not know about winning $55M

When Laura Tutcho discovered she held the winning $55-million May 1 Lotto Max ticket, she waited a while but eventually called the lottery corporation for some hypothetical advice.

First bit of advice Laura Tutcho received upon winning Lotto Max draw: get out of town

The N.W.T.'s Laura Tutcho won $55 million May 1. (Western Canada Lottery Corporation)

When Laura Tutcho discovered she held a winning $55-million Lotto Max ticket, she waited a while but eventually called the lottery corporation for some hypothetical advice.

"I called the lottery people — I didn't tell them I was a winner — I just told them, 'What do you do if you won?'" Tutcho said.

Their response: "If you did, it'd be better if you left town and don't tell anybody that you won big," Tutcho said.

Tutcho, a freelance interpreter from Délı̨nę, N.W.T., was the only person to match all seven winning numbers in the Western Canada Lottery Corporation's Lotto Max draw on May 1.

But she didn't win on her usual numbers. She won it on what she said was an $11 Quick Pick ticket — a set of numbers randomly generated at the time of purchase. The ticket was part of what she told CBC Radio's Trail's End host Lawrence Nayally was the usual "hundred dollars or close to it" that she spends on a big pot.

It's the largest prize ever won in the Northwest Territories by a magnitude of five.

Shortly after it was announced that the winning May 1 Lotto Max ticket had been bought in Yellowknife, Tutcho checked her tickets on her sister's prompting. Tutcho was at home with her grandchildren, and after discovering her Quick Pick was a winner, she shouted out, "Oh my God, Oh my God!" so loudly her grandchildren asked her if she was OK. 

But their fear that she had hurt herself turned to joy when they realized what happened. Her grandchildren jumped up and down and it was all a blur until someone hushed the celebration.

"Somebody might hear us," Tutcho said.

Tutcho said her granddaughter later told her what happened next: Tutcho sat on the end of her bed and asked the question every lottery ticket buyer can't help but dream of asking.

"What I'm going to do now?"

'That number hasn't changed'

Tutcho sat on that ticket for about a week and kept checking and rechecking the numbers, she said, until her granddaughter told her, "Grandma, that number hasn't changed."

That's when she called the lottery corporation and was told to make her way to a bigger city — Tutcho was in Yellowknife at the time — for privacy reasons and to work through the process of claiming a large prize, which included some banking she wasn't used to doing.

"When you win big — when you have lots of money — you don't go just to the counter, you go to a different section of the bank where they look after what they call 'wealth management,'" Tutcho said.

Tutcho went to Calgary, where she hired a lawyer and an accountant and chose a bank. She was finally able to get the ticket out of her own possession and give it to the lawyer — "It was a relief," she said. The lawyer took care of officially verifying with the lottery corporation that Tutcho was the $55-million winner.

"I told my family members and they were beside themselves," Tutcho said. "They didn't believe me [at first]."

Tutcho had originally explained her extended absence to family as a fishing trip to a cabin. But even after she was the official winner, and she had told some family, they were all asked to keep the news quiet until the lottery corporation was able to make a public announcement.

On an allowance

Tutcho said there was about a month of meetings to deal with the money matters and tax questions that accompany sudden wealth. 

"It's like a job," Tutcho said. "It was just too much. I was just exhausted."

Tutcho's money is now invested and she's on what she called an allowance — "It has something to do with the taxes," she said.

On June 1, the Western Canada Lottery Corporation posted Tutcho's win while she was still away from Yellowknife.

Tutcho said she's received a lot of phone calls since then, especially from the media. She said some Alberta news organizations reached out for interviews, but she turned down those requests.

"I said, 'No… The first people that are getting interviews are going to be people from the Northwest Territories."

Tutcho is in a mandatory 14-day COVID-19 quarantine for anyone returning to the N.W.T. from away. Her granddaughter is graduating and her grandson has a "farewell ceremony" coming up. She said she couldn't miss either, so she had to come back.

As for her plans beyond her grandchildren's rites of passage?

"I don't have any," Tutcho said. "The only thing I have is I want to go to Délı̨nę … I want to go fishing."

"I'm pretty sure my brother-in-law would take me fishing."

Written by Walter Strong, based on an interview by Lawrence Nayally