NASHVILLE, Tenn.—A Tennessee man who carried a slip of paper that could be worth an estimated $533 million to New York City and back delivered the ticket Friday to lottery officials in Nashville, who said they would study it closely to verify the win.
“Now I’ll be nervous because everybody knows,” John Robinson said earlier Friday on NBC’s “Today” show, where he appeared alongside his wife Lisa, their daughter, and their lawyer to claim that he held one of the three winning tickets for the world-record $1.6 billion Powerball jackpot.
The Associated Press could not immediately verify the Robinsons’ claim. There have been hoax winners in the past. News of a winner in California was quickly deflated Friday when that feel-good tale was described as a prank. Lottery officials in Tennessee, California and Florida—the states where the three tickets were sold—have yet to confirm or identify the winners.
The Robinsons said their lawyer advised them appear on national TV even before presenting the ticket to lottery officials, as a way to “control” the story. Lottery spokeswoman Rachel Petrie said she could not confirm the win meanwhile.
Lawyers who have represented other lottery winners advise against going public until they are ready to manage such a huge windfall. Talking seriously with experts in tax law, financial planning, privacy, security and other safeguards can help keep them, and their winnings, safe, they say.
The Robinsons seemed aware of at least some of the risks, even as they flew to New York—bringing along the family dog, they said—to tell the world that their future income has suddenly grown to more than half a billion dollars. Friday afternoon, John Robinson entered the lottery offices in Nashville with his family, still walking the dog by its leash and saying nothing to a scrum of television cameras.
Robinson did say that he had signed the back of the ticket, showing his ownership of it.
“It’s not going very far,” John Robinson said on NBC, holding tight to the slip of paper.
The three jackpot winners can leave their winnings to be invested and thereby collect 30 annual payments totaling an estimated $533 million, or take their third of $983.5 million in cash all at once.
But first, they must turn in their tickets.
When even the “Today” show anchors said they were nervous for the Robinsons walking around New York with the ticket, Lisa Robinson said: “You can help escort us out.”
Their neighbor Mary Sue Smith, told The AP that Lisa Robinson asked her Friday morning to put “No Trespassing” signs on their lawn while they’re away from their modest single-family home in Munford, a town of about 6,000 where many residents work in Memphis, about 25 miles to the south.
“Who will be coming out of the woodwork?” said Mary Sue Smith, their neighbor since about 1995. “The thought is not reporters, but everybody you knew in high school and elementary … You know what happens.”
John Robinson works in information technology and his wife is employed at a dermatologist’s office. Their son, Adam, is an electrician, and their daughter, Tiffany, who lives nearby, is a recent college graduate. They also have a second home nearby where Robinson “loves to fish,” said Roy Smith, who described them as “fine people,” dependable and hard-working.
“It could not have happened to better people,” Roy Smith said. “He’s a civic-minded person, and he probably will remember the town.”
Tiffany Robinson said she wants to pay off her student loans.
She also wants a horse.
“My first thought was, I’ve always wanted a horse,” she said. “I get a horse now. My dad always said, “When I win the lottery.'”
John Robinson said they also want to help out certain friends, give some money to the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, and donate to their church. “I’m a firm believer in tithing to my church,” Robinson said.
Munford’s mayor, Dwayne Cole, had wished openly Thursday for an investment in the town, whose annual budget is $3.67 million. He said Munford’s needs include fire department equipment, an indoor athletic facility for local schools and a community gymnasium.
After learning of the Robinsons’ claim, Cole told the AP on Friday that they are not the kind of family to squander their money.
“They’re small town people who appreciate community, appreciate family values. They appreciate hard work. They are responsible. They’ve always lived within their means,” said Cole, who owns an auto parts store in town,” Cole said.
“They have to understand, though, this is a big deal. This is not just a big deal for Munford. This is a big deal nationwide and worldwide. They understand that, I think. I hope they do,” he added. “I believe they can deal with it. It may be totally overwhelming.”
Robinson said he bought the winning ticket at his wife’s request at the family-owned Naifeh’s grocery on his way home from work, even though he wasn’t feeling well. He bought four quick-pick tickets, one for each family member, then gave them to his wife and went to lie down when he got home. She stayed up to watch the Wednesday night drawing, carefully writing down the numbers.
After triple-checking the ticket, she started “hollering and screaming through the hallway saying, ‘You need to check these numbers. You need to check these numbers,'” John Robinson said.
He did, four times, then thought: “Well, I’ll believe it when the news comes in on the morning and they say there’s a winner been in Munford.”
The other two winning tickets were bought in the modest Los Angeles suburb of Chino Hills, and at a supermarket in affluent Melbourne Beach, Florida. Each one overcame odds of 1 in 292.2 million to land on all the numbers.