CLIVE, Iowa — Of the many titles Tom Vilsack has had in his life, including mayor, state senator, Iowa governor and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, he now has another he admits he never expected: big Powerball winner.
Vilsack claimed a $150,000 Powerball prize Monday at Iowa Lottery headquarters in Clive.
“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, who now lives in Waukee, won his prize in the Powerball drawing on Jan. 22, when the game’s jackpot had grown to an estimated $347 million. But he said he didn’t check his ticket for several days.
“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?’”
So he retrieved his ticket from his briefcase and checked his numbers on the Iowa Lottery’s website. He said he was excited to see that he matched the Powerball on one of his plays. But he quickly realized he ultimately was just one number away from winning that night’s jackpot, matching four of the five white balls and the Powerball.
“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.’”
Vilsack double-checked the details on the lottery’s website and saw that he’d won a lot more than $10. He recalled that when he bought his easy-pick ticket, the store clerk had asked him if he wanted to add the Power Play® option to his ticket for an extra $1 per play, so he did. That option multiplies most prizes in the game by the Power Play number selected in the drawing. The Power Play number was three the night that Vilsack won his prize.
After realizing he’d won, he said he shared the news with his wife, Christie, who didn’t believe him.
“I said, ‘Geez, honey, actually I won $150,000,’” Vilsack recalled. “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 (the couple’s eldest 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 ultimately confirmed that his dad had won big – and so did the lottery.
“So today I decided to claim the prize,” Vilsack said with a smile. “Obviously, I’m very happy.”
He has specific plans for his winnings.
“The church is going to get a little bit of it, St. Boniface, I’m going to send that check out today,” he said. “And the kids are going to get a little bit because you always try to help your kids out. And then the rest is going to go to my banker. And he’s going to be very pleased to get it. 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 have otherwise been.”
Vilsack bought his winning ticket at Hy-Vee, 1005 E. Hickman Road in Waukee. He had some advice for other lottery players, knowing that he almost forgot to check his ticket.
“Sort of a word to the wise: Check your numbers. It matters,” he said. “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.”
As he claimed his prize, Vilsack also took a moment to reflect on the lottery and why he plays.
“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.
“Obviously, the whole issue of gaming has been somewhat controversial in every state,” he said. “But as long as we are providing assistance to those who over-extend themselves, which is unfortunate and tragic, and as long as we use these resources in a way to build our state and make it stronger and better, then I think it’s a good thing.”
Players in $2 Powerball choose their first five numbers from a pool of 69, and another number – called the Powerball – from a separate pool of 26. The Power Play option is available for an extra $1 per play.
Since getting its start in April 1992 in 15 states with jackpots that started at a guaranteed $2 million, Powerball has grown into one of the world’s biggest and most recognizable lottery games. Today Powerball is played by 48 lotteries across the country with drawings at 9:59 p.m. on Wednesdays and Saturdays.
About the Iowa Lottery: Since the lottery's start in 1985, its players have won more than $4.5 billion in prizes while the lottery has raised more than $2 billion for state programs. Today, lottery proceeds have four main purposes in Iowa. They provide support for our state's veterans and their families through the Iowa Veterans Trust Fund; support through the Public Safety Survivor Benefits Fund for the family members of Iowa peace officers and fire fighters who die in the line of duty; help for a variety of significant projects through the state General Fund; and backing for the Vision Iowa program, which was implemented to create tourism destinations and community attractions in the state and build and repair schools.