Coworkers claim Iowa's largest lottery jackpot

8:34 AM, Jun 21, 2012   |    comments
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That was a lingering question on Wednesday after 20 gleeful workers from the Quaker Oats plant in Cedar Rapids claimed the biggest prize in the history of the Iowa Lottery.

Nearly all of them appeared in front of TV cameras at an Iowa Lottery news conference in Des Moines. But they refused to disclose their identities, other than a few who provided their first names.

The workers, who called themselves "the Shipping 20" because their jobs involve shipping boxes of Quaker Oats cereal, entered the room with broad smiles as they were doused with confetti while music blared. They wore powder blue T-shirts from the Iowa Lottery that read, "You're lookin' at a winner!"

Iowa Lottery Chief Executive Officer Terry Rich congratulated them for what he described as a "life-changing event." One of the workers, who identified himself only as "Al," told how group members have pooled their money for years, with each person pitching in $5 for tickets, but only when the jackpot was $100 million or more.

He said there was a "lot of whooping and hollering" after they learned they had won the June 13 Powerball drawing and "word got out quicker than we could imagine."

The odds of winning the Powerball jackpot are 1 in 175.2 million. The lucky ticket was purchased at a Hy-Vee grocery store on Edgewood Road in Cedar Rapids.

The workers - 18 men and two women - chose to receive their payment from the drawing as a $112 million lump sum after taxes, rather than receiving a $241 million annuity spread over 30 years. Each received $5.6 million after taxes.

The workers told reporters during the news conference that they were not disclosing their names because they wanted to protect their privacy.

"We are private people, common people. I don't want the limelight," one man said.

Another said they don't want to be bothered by solicitors.

Joe Day of Cedar Rapids, a lawyer who represents the Shipping 20 Trust, said after the news conference that he planned to seek a court order in Linn County District Court to block the Iowa Lottery from releasing the names of the winners.

The Des Moines Register and the Cedar Rapids Gazette, citing Iowa's open-records law, sought to obtain the winners' names. Rich said the lottery believes the names are public and should be disclosed, but he agreed to give the group 10 business days to seek an injunction.

Day said the legal winner of the Powerball jackpot is the Shipping 20 Trust, and the workers are beneficiaries of the trust who cannot be identified without their consent. He contended that the trust was created the minute that the group created the pool to buy lottery tickets. He said a court order validating the existence of the trust was approved on Tuesday.

The names of Iowa Lottery winners have been routinely made public since the state-run lottery was established in 1985. Rich said there have been other lottery winners who wanted to remain anonymous, but he believed this was the first time that someone had announced plans to seek a court order to keep his or her identity a secret.

Herb Strentz, a retired Drake University journalism professor and former executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council, said he suspected the trust's legal battle for secrecy would ultimately be an exercise in futility. Many people in Cedar Rapids already are acquainted with the workers in the Quaker Oats pool.

"It is not a question of whether they will be identified. It is a question of when," Strentz said.

During the Iowa Lottery's news conference, the group's members said at least 11 of them planned to retire, and one said he planned to travel to Alaska. Several said they were thankful the Quaker Oats plant was reopened after being badly damaged by major flooding that struck Cedar Rapids in 2008. The winners range in age from 35 to 64, and their years of service to the company range from 10 to 40 years.

The workers were among a group of about 50 people, including family members and friends, who rode from Cedar Rapids to Des Moines on Wednesday morning aboard a chartered bus. The workers, who all wore red T-shirts en route, had broad smiles and grinned as they got off at Iowa Lottery headquarters. Asked how they felt, they responded with "great" and "awesome." They are members of the Local 110 of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, United Food and Commercial Workers International.

One of the group's fellow workers recorded a country-and-western song this week in their honor. The title is "Callin' in Rich," and the lyrics include the words, "I won the lottery and it's a new day."

The winning numbers for the June 13 Powerball game were 7-10-14-33-57 and Powerball 18. The jackpot ticket matched all six numbers drawn. Powerball is played in 44 jurisdictions nationwide.

Iowa's biggest previous jackpot winners were Tim and Kellie Guderian of Fort Dodge, who claimed a $200.8 million prize in October 2006. The biggest jackpot ever for Powerball was a $365 million prize shared in February 2006 by eight co-workers at a ConAgra ham-processing plant in Lincoln, Neb.

This was the seventh time a Powerball jackpot ticket has been sold in Iowa, but the fifth time the Iowa Lottery has sold a Powerball ticket worth at least $1 million since the game was redesigned in January.

Those changes doubled the price of a ticket to $2 from $1, while providing more chances to win at least $1 million.

Written by William Petroski

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