Couple keep Big Game win a big secret

Lottery: Anne Arundel couple, not wanting to distract sons from school, wait 3 weeks to claim $31.5 million jackpot.

June 16, 1999|By Rafael Alvarez and Jackie Powder | Rafael Alvarez and Jackie Powder,SUN STAFF

For three weeks, George and Celia Poteet knew they were millionaires many times over.

Fate -- disguised as the numbers 12, 35, 36, 38, 39 and 30 -- had spirited the Millersville couple from middle-class comfort on Dogwood Road in Anne Arundel County to the land of big money: $31.5 million in lottery winnings.

It's the kind of cash that changes families forever, and the Poteets kept their pot of gold a secret from nearly everyone but their accountant until their sons finished final exams at Old Mill High School.

Yesterday, the Poteets took their winning Big Game ticket out of a safe-deposit box -- where it sat after Mr. Poteet was convinced that his wallet wasn't big enough for $31.5 million -- and claimed their winnings.

Celia Poteet, 41, quit her job as an X-ray technician at the Orthopedic and Sports Medicine Center in Annapolis two weeks ago, citing "personal reasons." Her husband, a Department of Defense computer analyst in Fort Meade, hasn't decided if he'll keep his job.

"It's kind of weird," said Mr. Poteet, 48. "You spend your whole life working and then one day, you don't have to work anymore."

Aside from sharing their new-found wealth among relatives, the couple from the Elvaton Acres neighborhood weren't sure exactly what they'd do with the money: a little more than half of a $61 million multistate lottery jackpot.

Their lives are already full, they said, with church events, recreational soccer and baseball games, and Boy Scouts.

Multistate game

The Big Game is played in seven states: Massachusetts, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Virginia and New Jersey.

The Poteets' win is the fourth -- and biggest -- Big Game jackpot ever claimed in Maryland. The second highest was worth $16 million, according to the state lottery.

Because the Poteets chose a lump-sum payout over an annuity, their before-tax share is $31.5 million. As of yesterday, when Maryland lottery officials made a show of presenting them with an oversized check, they'd yet to buy anything beyond what their normal salaries would afford.

Last night, the family sat in their living room watching television as a local reporter did a live broadcast about Lady Luck from their front lawn.

Said Mrs. Poteet: "Can you believe this? It's too much."

The couple's multimillion-dollar odyssey began when George Poteet realized that he needed a longer garden hose to clean his above-ground backyard pool. One Saturday afternoon a few days before Memorial Day he made a trip to BJ's Wholesale Club in Pasadena.

While paying for the hose, the inveterate lottery player -- whose quest for lucky numbers was something of a family joke before yesterday -- saw a lottery sign declaring: "$61 million could be yours."

Said Mr. Poteet, who rarely checks his numbers even though he plays every week: "I had $3 in change so I said give me $3 worth of tickets, and I didn't think any more about it."

On May 26, a day after lottery officials announced that a winning ticket had been sold, Mr. Poteet lay in bed, nettled by the prospect that he'd finally won.

"I thought: `I gotta check it,' " he said.

After calling The Sun's SunDial information service, he realized that he had indeed won.

Rechecking the numbers

"I got my wife out of bed and said, `Please can you come down and dial this number and write down the lottery numbers.' "

Again, they matched.

The Poteets sat on their secret for nearly three weeks, not wanting to distract their 13- and 15-year-old sons, who they did not want to identify, from their schoolwork.

The only other people who knew of the win was a friend who works as an accountant and Mrs. Poteet's mother. On Monday, the last day of school in Anne Arundel County, the Poteets told their sons that they were rich, and yesterday, they contacted lottery officials.

The Poteet boys are talking cars and computers.

"They're always talking about those things [anyway]," said Mrs. Poteet.

"We're pretty conservative," said Mr. Poteet.

"Now it's just harder to say no," said his wife.

Sun staff writer La Quinta Dixon and the Associated Press contributed to this article.

Pub Date: 6/16/99

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