World

$768M US Powerball winner, 24, feared he had 'ticket everybody wants'

A 24-year-old Wisconsin man has stepped forward to claim a $768-million US Powerball prize. The young man said he "felt lucky" the day he bought his tickets, but after learning about his win, he was worried people wanted to steal his ticket.

Manuel Franco deflected questions about his life, said he knows 'how to say no'

Manuel Franco of West Allis, Wis., winner of the second-highest U.S. Powerball lottery in history, attends a news conference at the state department of revenue in Madison, Wis., on Tuesday. He could have collected the $768-million US prize as an annuity, paid over 29 years, but instead claimed the lump-sum cash option of $477 million US, before taxes. ((John Hart/Wisconsin State Journal via AP)

A 24-year-old Wisconsin man stepped forward Tuesday to claim a $768 million US Powerball prize, his country's third-largest lottery jackpot, saying he "pretty much felt lucky" the day he bought his tickets, even though he was worried that people wanted to steal his winning ticket.

Manuel Franco of West Allis said he was sorting through $10 worth of quick-pick tickets after the March 27 drawing and thought he had checked all his tickets. Then he saw one last ticket stuck to another one, and recounted to reporters the feeling as he matched the first two numbers, then glanced at the Powerball to see it matched, too.

"I was going insane," Franco said. "I looked back at the three other numbers, they all matched. My heart started racing, my blood started pumping, I felt warm. I started screaming."

I got that paranoia when you think the whole world is after you.- Manuel Franco

Franco declined to reveal much about himself at a news conference conducted by Wisconsin Lottery officials, smiling often but deflecting questions such as what he did for a living and what kind of car he drives.

Franco did say he quit work the second day after winning, saying he just couldn't continue.

He said he would take a lump sum payment, hoped to make some charitable contributions, and was prepared for people who might come asking for money.

"I'm ready and I know how to say no," Franco said.

Under Wisconsin law, winners cannot remain anonymous. Franco said as soon as he realized he had won he started feeling paranoid and put his winning ticket in a safe.

"I got that paranoia when you think the whole world is after you," he said. "I thought there was somebody behind me every single day. It's hard living your life when you have the ticket everybody wants."

He didn't offer any specific incidents or exchanges with anyone that made him feel afraid. Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and state Rep. Gary Tauchen, both Republicans, introduced a bill moments after the news conference ended that would allow lottery winners to remain anonymous.

Push to protect privacy

The legislators said in a memo seeking co-sponsors that it's unfortunate Franco "is now being forced to publicly expose his identity in order to collect his winnings. This type of public display often makes lottery winners targets of fraud, abuse and harassment." 

Lottery officials frequently cite transparency and public trust in their games as reasons for publicly identifying winners.

Patty Mayers, a spokesperson for the state department of revenue, which runs the lottery, said the lottery has always operated on the basis that more transparency is better. She noted there's no requirement that winners hold news conferences as Franco did. 

Drawings can be rigged; former Multi-State Lottery Association information security director Eddie Tipton admitted in 2017 to manipulating software so he could predict winning numbers on certain days of the year. Tipton, his brother and a friend fixed jackpots that paid $2.61 million to them and their associates in four states.

Franco's winning ticket was sold on March 27 at a Speedway gas station in the Milwaukee suburb of New Berlin, a city of about 40,000 people roughly 23 kilometres southwest of Milwaukee.

The $768-million prize refers to an annuity option paid over 29 years. The winner also can choose a $477-million cash option; Franco picked that route. The gas station will receive $100,000 for selling the winning ticket.

The jackpot is the third-largest behind the world record $1.6-billion US Powerball jackpot shared by winners in California, Florida and Tennessee in January 2016 and a $1.5-billion US Mega Millions jackpot won in South Carolina last October.

Wisconsin Department of Revenue officials estimated that if the winner takes the cash prize the state would claim $36.4 million of the winnings as tax revenue. DOR Secretary Peter Barca said in March the tax windfall would be $38 million, but lottery officials said Tuesday that Barca was mistaken.

Annual tax revenue from annuities would build from $11.6 million this year to $47 million by 2048.

The win comes almost exactly two years after Wisconsin hit its last Powerball jackpot, when a Milwaukee resident won $156.2 million on March 22, 2017.

The odds of matching all six balls in the Powerball drawing were one in 292.2 million. The winning numbers were 16, 20, 37, 44 and 62.

Seven tickets matched all five white balls but missed matching the red Powerball to win a $1 million prize. Those tickets were sold in Arizona, two in California, Indiana, Missouri, New Jersey and New York. Two other tickets sold in Kansas and Minnesota matched all five white balls and doubled the prize to $2 million since the tickets included the Power Play option for an additional $1.