Beliefnet
Charleston, W.Va., Dec. 26-(AP) A 55-year-old contractor won the $314.9 million Powerball jackpot, the largest single lottery jackpot in history, lottery officials said Thursday.

Andrew Jackson Whittaker Jr., opted to take the lump sum of more than $111 million after taxes, Lottery spokeswoman Nancy Bulla said. "I've had to work for everything in my life. This is the first thing that's ever been given to me," he said.

Whittaker said he originally thought he had lost the jackpot because the numbers came up wrong on the televised drawing Christmas night. It wasn't until Thursday morning that he realized he won.

He said he plans to pay his tithe to the Church of God with the winnings. "The very first thing I'm going to do is go home and make out three checks to three pastors," said Whittaker, who was dressed in all black and was wearing a black cowboy hat.

His wife of 36 years said she plans to go to Israel. "I'd just go to go there. It's where Jesus walked," Jewell Whittaker said.

The couple planned to travel to New York City Thursday night. "I just want to thank God for letting me pick the right numbers--or letting the machine pick the right numbers," Whittaker said.

Whittaker said he would share the rest of his winnings with his family, and may expand his business. He has a daughter named Ginger and a 15-year-old granddaughter. Ginger Whittaker said she had cancer twice and had not worked for about a year. "I was getting ready to go back to work but I think I'm retired now," she said. "I'm getting really excited because of the good works I can do with this money," Whittaker said.

Whittaker is the president of three construction companies. "I have 25 people laid off right now at Christmas and I want more work so I can put them back to work," he said. He said he currently employs 117 people.

He told Bulla he was not a regular lottery player but he bought $100 in tickets because the jackpot was so high. He plays when it reaches $100 million.

Whittaker went back to the store Thursday morning to fill up on gas and buy some biscuits as he does each day. The clerk was the one who sold him the ticket Monday. "She said, 'No you didn't, you're not excited enough to win the lottery.' And she pushed me out the door," he said.

The ticket was purchased at the C&L Super Serve in Hurricane, 25 miles west of Charleston. "It's so just that the poorest state in America wins the biggest Powerball in history," said Bob O'Dell, a 51-year-old resident of the town that's pronounced herr' ah cun. (West Virginia's per capita income actually was second lowest to Mississippi's in 2000.)

The jackpot was the largest ever for a single winning ticket, Bulla said. It also was the third-largest jackpot in U.S. history. An unexpected Christmas Day run on Powerball tickets pushed the already whopping $280 million jackpot to $314.9 million just before numbers were drawn, making it the Powerball's largest prize ever. The winning numbers were 5-14-16-29-53 and the Powerball was 7.

Whittaker had the option of taking a cash payout of $170 million before taxes or collecting the entire jackpot in 30 payments over 29 years. He took the lump sum and Gov. Bob Wise presented him with an initial check of $10 million.

At the Super Serve early Thursday in Hurricane, a town of 5,200 residents, clerk Aaron Gillispie said the 24-hour grocery store and gas station was in a frenzy. "It's a mad house," he said in an Associated Press Radio interview. "Every camera crew, every news crew, every person that has anything to do with anything wants to talk to us."

Super Serve owner Larry Trogdon told NBC's "Today" that police called his house at 3 a.m. "It was scary," he said. "Then they told me we sold the lottery ticket for $314 million. That made me relieved. Then I had to travel 90 miles to get here."

By selling the ticket, Trogdon gets $100,000. "I have a daughter getting married this summer," he told NBC, smiling. "I guess we're honeymooning in Hawaii," said his daughter, Amy, who manages the Hurricane store and is to wed Gillispie July 19. "Heck, if you're going to Hawaii, I'm coming with you," Trogdon answered, laughing.

Powerball, the nation's largest lottery game, is sold in 23 states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Before the Christmas 2002 prize, the largest Powerball jackpot was $295.7 million in July 1998. The biggest lottery jackpot in U.S. history was a Big Game prize of $363 million, won in May 2000 by ticketholders in Michigan and Illinois. The second was a $331 million Big Game jackpot split between three tickets in April.

Spain's annual Christmas lottery known as El Gordo--The Fat One--is billed as the world's richest. This year's $1.7 billion jackpot spreads wealth among millions of people. About 10,000 numbers win some kind of prize, from $20 to $200,000.

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