Tennessee couple declared 1st official winners of $2.3b US Powerball jackpot

Powerball jackpot co-winners Lisa and John Robinson, their daughter Tiffany Robinson (left) and Tennessee Lottery President and CEO Rebecca Hargrove (second from right).
Powerball jackpot co-winners Lisa and John Robinson, their daughter Tiffany Robinson (left) and Tennessee Lottery President and CEO Rebecca Hargrove (second from right). PHOTO: REUTERS
John and Lisa Robinson and Tennessee Lottery President and CEO Rebecca Hargrove (right) attending a news conference at the headquarters of the Tennessee Lottery.
John and Lisa Robinson and Tennessee Lottery President and CEO Rebecca Hargrove (right) attending a news conference at the headquarters of the Tennessee Lottery.PHOTO: REUTERS

NASHVILLE, Tennessee (Reuters/AFP) - Lottery officials confirmed on Friday (Jan 15) that a Tennessee couple held one of three winning tickets for a world record US$1.6 billion (S$2.3 billion), jackpot and handed them a symbolic check for US$528.8 million.

Mr John Robinson and Mrs Lisa Robinson said they had barely slept since defying the odds to hit the jackpot, but they smiled when a lottery executive handed them a giant check before a phalanx of television cameras.

Mr Robinson works at a maintenance distribution centre and Mrs Robinson works for a dermatologist. Their adult daughter Tiffany stood next to them with their rescue dog Abby.

The Robinsons, from the tiny town of Munford, with barely 5,000 residents, appeared overwhelmed by their incredible luck in the Powerball jackpot draw on Wednesday. The chances of winning were 1 in 292.2 million.

 

The couple told reporters that they wanted to pay off their daughter's student loans, but had no plans to move and wanted to continue working.

"That's what we've done all our life. Work. You can't just sit down and do nothing," Mr Robinson said.

They intend to donate funds to their church and a children's hospital and to help friends.

After investing the rest of their new-found fortune, they plan to keep living in the same home in the Memphis suburb of Munford.

"Big fancy houses, elaborate houses, they're nice. But you have to clean them," Mr Robinson said.

Ms Rebecca Hargrove, president of the Tennessee Lottery Corporation, said they would have to wait 10 days for their actual winnings, which the commission would pay after retailers send in the proceeds of record ticket sales.

"They'll get a small check today for a few million," said Ms Hargrove.

The couple have opted to receive a one-time cash payment of US$337 million rather than US$528.8 million divided into annual payments over 29 years. There is no state tax on lottery winnings in Tennessee.

"We're going to take the lump sum because we're not guaranteed tomorrow," Mr Robinson said.

"More stress comes with that ticket," Mrs Robinson told a news conference in Nashville after flying in from New York, where the couple had appeared on national television.

The Robinsons said they had consulted the Internet and followed the advice they found there, hiring an accountant and a lawyer to help them navigate their riches.

Their lawyer Joe Townsend, asked the media to give them time to rest before deciding on any further media appearances.

"They're almost 48 hours without any sleep," he told reporters.

The family's life changed forever when Mr Robinson bought four Powerball tickets at his wife's request just a few hours before Wednesday's live television draw, then headed off to sleep because he was not feeling well.

It was his custom to buy four tickets, one for each member of his immediate family. The couple also have a son.

Only after checking the numbers three times did an astonished Mrs Robinson alert her husband.

"I went running down the hallway, 'John, John, you've got to check these numbers!'" she told NBC's "Today" show.

He was asleep and was like, 'Whaaa?'"

He checked the ticket four times, but even then couldn't quite believe it.

Once he had a good look at the ticket, he wanted to surprise Tiffany, who lives nearby. He tried to lure her over with a request that she bring him some headache medicine. "She got someone else to bring it," he sighed.

His plan foiled, Robinson spilled the good news to her over the phone. "I said 'Tiffany, we got the winning numbers!' She said,'No.' I said, 'Yup'," Mr Robinson recalled.

The couple waited for the news to come on in the morning and confirm there had been a winner in Munford, which is north-east of Memphis.

He then consulted his brother, who works in finance and referred them to a financial advisor, who recommended a lawyer.

The couple, on their lawyer's advice, agreed to travel to New York on Thursday night to appear on NBC's Today show early on Friday. Saying they had slept only one hour in the last 48, they excused themselves from the press conference to get rest.

Mrs Robinson said there had been no time to plan how to spend the money but she does not intend to quit her job.

"I'll be there Monday," she promised.

The Robinsons said they only played the lottery when the jackpot got particularly high in hopes of getting "a little piece of the pie".

Mr Robinson said he did not make enough money to play every week.

"Actually, I was on way home from work, and she had called me and she said, 'Are you going to stop and get a couple lottery tickets?'" he told NBC.

"I really didn't feel like stopping that night, but I was like, 'Yeah, I'll stop'... I wasn't feeling good, and I handed the tickets to her and said, 'I'm going to go lay down,'" he said.

The winning numbers were 4, 8, 19, 27 and 34, drawn from five white balls, and 10 as the so-called Powerball number on a red ball.

The identities of the two other winning ticket holders have not been revealed. A ticket in California was bought at a Los Angeles convenience store and one in Florida from a Melbourne Beach supermarket.

Their holders have yet to come forward.

The previous US jackpot record of US$656 million, on March 30, 2012, was scooped by three winners from North Carolina, Puerto Rico and Texas.

Under lottery rules, a winner has up to a year to present a ticket. All three states with winners have laws requiring their names be released publicly, according to the Powerball website.