Ex-Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack Wins $150,000 Powerball Prize

Tuesday February 11th 2020

As the Iowa Democratic Party completes a recanvass before results in the Iowa caucuses are certified, at least one Democrat in the state is definitely a winner.

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Former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack has claimed a $150,000 Powerball prize he won in his home state on January 22.

As well as governor, Vilsack has served as a mayor, state senator, and Secretary of Agriculture under President Obama.

He now has a new title, one he admits he never expected: Powerball winner.

On January 22, the Powerball was riding high at $347 million - and Vilsack divulged that he's as tempted by a big jackpot as anyone. "Occasionally when the Powerball gets above $250 million, I think, 'What the heck?' You know, you can dream, like everybody else," he said.

"And I also know that the chances of me winning anything are next to none and so the money is going to go to education or veterans or the state fund for natural resources or infrastructure, or all the good things that the lottery does. So, I figure it's a good contribution."

Vilsack said that a member of his security team when he was agriculture secretary played the lottery regularly and won a prize in a similar way. "We used to joke about what we'd do" with a big win, Vilsack recalled.

The jackpot eventually grew to $396.9 million and was won in Florida on January 29.

Vilsack, who lives in Waukee, Iowa, purchased his winning ticket at the Waukee Hy-Vee at 1005 E. Hickman Road.

But then, like many players, "I forgot about the ticket," he said. "Then I woke up 10 days later on a Saturday morning and I said, 'Oh geez, I wonder how I did?'"

He took his ticket out of his briefcase and jumped onto the Iowa Lottery's website to check his numbers. Initially, he saw he had matched the Powerball on an easy-pick.

But then he saw another play had matched four out of five white balls plus the Powerball - just one number off winning the jackpot.

The winning numbers in the January 22 draw were 11, 33, 44, 59, 67, and Powerball 8.

"And I said, 'My gosh, I got every number but one!'" he said. "So then it was, 'Well, geez, when you get every number but one, surely they've got to give you like $10 or something.'"

After double-checking the details, Vilsack quickly realized he'd won much more than that. He matched four main numbers plus the Powerball to win the game's "Match 4 + Powerball" third prize, worth $50,000.

However, when buying his ticket, the clerk asked if he wanted to add Power Play for an extra $1 per play, and he did. The Power Play add-on multiplies most non-jackpot prizes by the Power Play number that's chosen during the Powerball drawing.

On January 22, the Power Play was 3, so Vilsack's prize was actually worth three times more than it would have been otherwise.

His wife Christy wasn't convinced of the win at first. "I said, 'Geez, honey, actually I won $150,000,' Vilsack remembered. "She said, 'No you didn't!' I said, 'No, look at this.' And I gave her the ticket. She looked at the numbers and she said, 'Go next door to Jess [their oldest son] and have him read the numbers and make sure you're looking at this right.' I said, 'I put it in the system here! It's telling me I won $150,000!'"

Jess confirmed his dad really had won six figures. "Obviously, I'm very happy," Vilsack smiled.

He revealed that he already knows just what he will do with the money.

"The church is going to get a little bit of it, St. Boniface, I'm going to send that check out today," he said.

Family also features in his plans: "The kids are going to get a little bit because you always try to help your kids out."

Experts advise winners to prioritize debt repayment, and that's another thing Vilsack has earmarked his prize for. "The rest is going to go to my banker ... because we still have an outstanding mortgage from many years ago and this will help pay it down to the point where retirement can be a little bit more comfortable than it might otherwise have been."

Vilsack also has a nugget of advice from his experience for other players. "Sort of a word to the wise: Check your numbers. It matters," he urged. "There are different ways to win. I didn't realize that. I honestly didn't realize you could win by not having all of the numbers. And so people sometimes walk away from some resources and some money when they don't check their ticket."

He certainly has a point. Players leave millions of dollars in winnings on the table every year - in December, a $14.6 million ticket expired in Arizona! And once prizes expire, they're gone for good. 

Like Vilsack, many players don't realize there are more prizes than just the jackpot. Powerball and Mega Millions both have $1 million second prizes and nine prize tiers.

Luckily, it's easy to check your Powerball and Mega Millions tickets online whenever you play.

Vilsack also reflected on the role the Iowa Lottery plays in the Hawkeye State. "I know that this lottery is really important to the state and it's certainly important to the state budget," he said. "It's something that I certainly understand from my experience as a state senator and as a governor and I think it's great. And as you say, you don't win if you don't play.

The Iowa Lottery launched in 1985 and has given more than $2 billion to state programs, while players have won over $4.5 billion in prizes. 

Iowa was one of the original states to form the Multi-State Lottery Association, which administers Powerball and Mega Millions. The state has had nine Powerball jackpot winners since the game started in 1992, and began offering Mega Millions in 2010.

Iowa's biggest Powerball winner was Lerynne West of Redford, who split the game's fourth-largest jackpot of $687 million on October 27, 2018. The other winner was Robert Bailey of New York, and both chose the cash option of $198 million each.

West had a close call when she almost lost her ticket on the floor of her sister's truck. She later created a charity, The Callum Foundation, named for her grandson.

The next Powerball drawing is Wednesday, February 12 for a jackpot of $70 million, and there's still time to get your tickets.

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