PIERRE, S.D. – It has the makings of a Hollywood script: A young rancher struggling to eke out a living in one of the poorest corners of the nation claims one of the biggest undivided jackpots in U.S. lottery history – $232 million – after buying the ticket in a town called Winner.
As he sported a black cowboy hat and a huge grin, 23-year-old Neal Wanless accepted his giant-size Powerball check at a ceremony Friday.
Wanless, who is single and lives with his mother and father on the family’s 320-acre ranch near Mission, said he’s going to buy himself a bigger spread, repay the kindness other townspeople have shown his family and spend his newfound fortune wisely.
“I want to thank the Lord for giving me this opportunity and blessing me with this great fortune. I will not squander it,” he said.
Wanless bought $15 worth of tickets to the May 27 30-state drawing at a convenience store in Winner during a trip to buy livestock feed. He will take home a lump sum of $88.5 million after taxes are deducted – an astonishing fortune, even more so in rural Todd County, the nation’s seventh-poorest county in 2007, according to the Census Bureau.
Arlen Wanless, the winner’s father, has been buying and selling scrap metal to make a living in recent years, but his fortunes dropped with the price of iron, said Dan Clark, an auctioneer from Winner and a friend of more than two decades.
Dave Assman, who owns farmland next to the Wanless ranch, said he is happy they won’t have to worry about money anymore. “They’ve been real short on finances for a long time,” Assman said. “They are from real meager means, I guess you’d say.”
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