Verified: Tennessee man won third of $1.6B Powerball lottery
Adrian Sainz and Eric Schelzig, The Associated Press
Published Friday, January 15, 2016 11:33AM EST
Last Updated Friday, January 15, 2016 5:46PM EST
NASHVILLE -- Lottery officials verified Friday that a longtime resident of the small town of Munford, Tennessee, bought one of three tickets winning the world-record $1.6 billion Powerball jackpot.
Tennessee Lottery executive Rebecca Hargrove made the big announcement.
John Robinson of Munford, a town of 6,000 north of Memphis, said he quickly reached out to his brother and others to assemble a team of lawyers and financial planners.
What could one person possibly do with all that money?
Robinson said earlier in an appearance on NBC's "Today" show that he and his wife, Lisa, want to help out certain friends, give 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.
Their daughter Tiffany, who flew with them to New York and back, is looking forward to paying 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.'"
The three jackpot winners can leave their winnings to be invested and thereby collect 30 annual payments totalling an estimated $533 million, or take their third of $983.5 million in cash all at once.
Robinson said he would take the lump sum.
Robinson carried the precious slip of paper to New York City and back before delivering the ticket Friday to lottery officials in Nashville.
"Now I'll be nervous because everybody knows," John Robinson told his interviewers on the "Today" show set, where he appeared with his wife, daughter and lawyer. He even brought the family dog to New York and back, walking the pet on a leash into lottery headquarters in Nashville later Friday.
The other tickets were sold in Melbourne Beach, Florida, and Chino Hills, California, each one overcoming odds of 1 in 292.2 million to land on all the numbers.
Lottery officials in those states have yet to confirm or identify the winners. News of a possible winner in California was quickly deflated Friday when that feel-good tale was described as a prank.
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.
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 to tell the world that their future income has suddenly grown to more than half a billion dollars.
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.
Even the "Today" show anchors said they were nervous for the Robinsons walking around New York with the ticket.
Their neighbour 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 small one-story house 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. "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."
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 that the Robinsons won the prize, Cole told the AP on Friday that they are not the kind 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.
"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," Cole 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."