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$768M Wisconsin Powerball winner ‘pretty much felt lucky’

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A 24-year-old Wisconsin man stepped forward Tuesday to claim a $768 million Powerball prize, the nation’s third-largest lottery jackpot, saying he “pretty much felt lucky” the day he bought his tickets and has been worried that people want to steal his 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.”

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.

The $768 million prize refers to an annuity option paid over 29 years. The winner also can choose a $477 million cash option, which was the route Franco picked. The state will keep $36.4 million in taxes and the federal government will keep $114.6 million in taxes, leaving Franco with $326 million.

Franco said his financial goal before winning the jackpot was getting his bank account to the $1,000 mark. He said he 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. “I’m just going to take off somewhere and, honestly, just take my time with it, think it over, talk to my family and make sure I spent it in the right way.”

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.

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. 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 14 miles (23 kilometers) southwest of Milwaukee. 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 Powerball jackpot shared by winners in California, Florida and Tennessee in January 2016 and a $1.5 billion Mega Millions jackpot won in South Carolina last October.

The prize is also the largest jackpot in Wisconsin history. 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 1 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.

Powerball is played in 44 states as well as Washington, D.C., the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.

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