TRENTON, N.J. — Because he bought his half-billion dollar Mega Millions ticket in New Jersey, Richard Wahl, 47, had no choice but to go public with his newfound wealth.
Unlike some other U.S. states, the New Jersey Lottery Commission requires that winners of major jackpots publicly accept their winnings. Wahl did so at a press conference here Friday morning.
The food processing plant manager, who moved to Vernon, New Jersey last July, made it abundantly clear that he’d become a multi-millionaire quite accidentally.
“I don’t play Mega Millions,” said the former Michigan resident. "I’ve played twice."
The first time was on the Monday of the last week of March. He lost.
Then, against his wife's advice, he bought another ticket that Friday.
That night, about an hour after the 11 p.m. drawing, Wahl checked his numbers, and found that the first few numbers had matched.
"I was like, 'I won four dollars!'" he said at the news conference, as attendees laughed. As he kept checking his numbers, all but one matched.
"I’m like, 'Wow, I won a million dollars,'" Wahl said.
It was only when he looked at his ticket one more time that the full extent of his win hit him.
"I went over and looked at that one," he said, about the number on his ticket that he'd erroneously assumed was incorrect. Wahl choked back tears as he continued. "I could tell you it didn't sink in. It was truly amazing."
The $533 million jackpot has a considerably smaller lump sum payout. Once taxes are deducted, about $175 million is left. That's the amount that Wahl, his family, and their "financial team," as he described them, chose to take.
"We believe God has a plan," he said. "We intend to do good things with it. It's not only life changing for me, but also life changing for others."
A wide variety of media outlets, including PIX11 News, went to the gas station two weeks ago to report on the place where the winning ticket had been sold. On the day that all of the camera crews and reporters were at the Riverdale, New Jersey store, Wahl went to the station to get gas and to use the ATM.
"I went in there, and seen all the cameras," said Wahl, "and thought, 'It’s not gonna be good.'"
He left immediately, not to be seen again near television cameras until he received his ceremonial check, just before noon on Friday.
Wahl said that he intends to take his wife on a vacation, as well as to do "something special" for her, since "she's my queen." He did not offer any details.
The tax amount on the jackpot is $149 million.