opinion

What a feeling!

Imagine being able to award large sums of money to lottery winners; we speak with two lottery officials who share their first-hand accounts.

What a feeling!
Beau A., Colorado Lottery winer receiving his $500,000 check. Image from the "This is What Winning Feels Like" video on the Colorado Lottery youtube channel.

To make players' dreams come true …

State Lottery Directors Share Experiences Awarding Large Sums of Taxpayer Money to Winners.

Nothing quite matches the feeling of handing someone a check with a zillion zeroes.

So imagine if your full-time job was with a state lottery and a sizable part of your duties were to award large sums of money to winners; that would be a pretty great way to earn a living, right?

Candid conversations

We at Lottery USA spoke with two state lottery officials for whom this sentiment is convincingly true, for both—in their enviable positions—have had the good fortune of making people's dreams come true.

Colorado Lottery Communications Director

In speaking one-on-one with Meghan Dougherty, Communications Manager for the State of Colorado's lottery, she said there was nothing more rewarding than giving people significant amounts of money with the potential to change their lives.

“To see the joy and happiness when you present someone with a check - of any amount- it's priceless,” shared Dougherty of the feeling she takes away from her interactions with winners.

The path to Dougherty's succession to her current role with the Colorado State Lottery was not exactly planned.

Years back, Dougherty, who emanated from the East Coast, took a road trip out to Boulder, Colorado, to visit her sister. Finding herself out of gas and money, she ended up staying in the state for good.

Though it took some time before she landed the plum title she holds today, she counts her blessings—not only for the natural beauty of her geographical locale—but also for the impactful role she gets to play at the state's lottery.

While Colorado has not yet had a billion-dollar jackpot winner, the Rocky Mountain state has claimed several sizable Powerball winning tickets: $90 million in 2014 by a tow truck driver from a small town in Colorado and, in 2017, a woman won $133.2 million playing the same numbers she's played for 30 years.

Only joining Colorado's lottery leadership team in 2019, Dougherty was not involved in the previously mentioned Powerball wins. However, in the present day, she does play an active role in the identification and publication of stores where winning tickets have been sold and meeting with winners when they come forward to claim their prizes.

“In Colorado, we are proud of the lottery, and I'm proud of the role I play,” explained Dougherty of the three primary tenets of her job: to award monetary prizes to winners, donate funds back to environmental/ life-enriching causes, and ensure lottery games in Colorado are played fairly and equally accessible to all.

Never losing its luster, with regard to the multitude of interactions she has with winner ticket-holders, Dougherty said:

It never stops being exciting to see the winners receive instant gratification.

Out in force

Going into jackpot patrol mode, she sends memos to all the interrelated parties: the governor's team, media, and retailer who sold the winning ticket, etc. The outreach team must then 'hit pause' until the winner comes forward to claim their prize.

Being that the Colorado Lottery allows winners to keep their anonymity, it prevents a lot of the fanfare other states have when making big-ticket announcements.

As Dougherty explained, the State of Colorado's governing system around its lottery is very intentional in that it reflects the values held by the people of the state.

Colorado Lottery sales beneficiaries

When compared against other U.S. state lotteries, there are three ways in which Colorado's lottery is viewed as being unique:

Proceeds from Colorado's lottery benefit environmental and life-enriching organizations and issues.

Winners are not required to publicly disclose their identities to claim prizes. While not the only state to allow winners to remain private, Colorado does take significant measures to safeguard winners from unwanted exposure. Even under the state's CORA (Colorado Open Records Act) laws, public disclosure can not be mandated.

Not just for the holidays but all year round, the Colorado lottery offers scratch-off players a second shot at winning the game's top prize.

So, while they may not make a big public fuss over winners of the large multi-state or daily draw games, they do for winners in their second chance drawings.

Non-winning players who scan their tickets online using Colorado's official state lottery app will be automatically enrolled in the second chance drawings. And, differing from regular play games, the second chance drawings DO require winners to reveal their identities.

After a second chance drawing is held and the winner is known, Colorado lottery officials Dougherty and Player Communications/ Engagement Specialist Kelia Busby ride in a government vehicle with cameras rolling to winners' homes, where they surprise them with a 'big check.'

Of winners' reactions, Dougherty told stories of the self-dubbed cat lady who exclaimed, “Are you kittening me;” the man whose business was struggling financially and received the money just in time, and the man who was screaming and yelling and got down on his knees to thank the heavens above.

Regardless of the amount of the win, everyone's responses are different,” stated Dougherty. “Oftentimes, they are more emotional than humorous as they are still trying to process the win.”

Whereby the sensations of shock and disbelief are known to be common—“Are you kidding me?”, in particular, is a repeated exclamation Dougherty says she has become accustomed to hearing.

Virginia former Lottery Executive Director 

Somewhat different are the experiences shared by the State of Virginia's former lottery director, Paula Otto, who first served as Public Information Director from the lottery's infancy in 1988 until the summer of 1997 before leaving the office only to return as the State's Lottery Director from 2008 to 2018.

While not quite the big winners of today, during Otto's helm, the State of Virginia did require the public release of winners' identities.

At the time, for most people, a million dollars was a lot of money. So when the Virginia Lottery experienced its first 'big' win (a million-dollar ticket), it was considered a large jackpot.

Very sweet and of humble means, the million-dollar winner, Otto said, was so excited and appreciative she exclaimed, “Now, I can buy something at Walmart without putting it on layaway.”

Winners receive special recognition

But regardless of the dollar amount, Otto's lottery team made it a point to make each and every winner feel special. When winners would visit the office to claim their money, there would be doughnuts and coffee, and all the state lottery employees would line up and gather around the stairs to applaud and congratulate winners as they were presented with a big check and their pictures were being taken.

For Otto's part, she would make the following statement to every winner:

You have been extremely lucky to have beaten the odds to win this (dollar amount) of money. We hope you use it to do good things for yourself and your family.

Over time, Otto relayed that each win was gratifying regardless of the amount.

“Doesn't have to be life-changing,” Otto said, “Regardless of the amount of money a player had won, it definitely altered the course of their day in a good way.”

All in all, of her long-time involvement with Virginia State's lottery, Otto said that it was a true honor and privilege to be with the winners when they received their prize money and were still in a state of bewilderment.

Life-changing experiences

So, sure, doctors and firefighters may save lives, but lottery officials get to reward winners with something tangible in the form of money. They get to witness, first-hand, players' initial reactions to learning they have just come into some money.

Granted, no job is without faults. Hence, if pressed, lottery officials may simply say one of the very few downsides is the fact they are banned from playing while in office.

But now that she no longer holds the title of Executive Director at the State of Virginia or any lottery-affiliated position for that matter, Otto is free to play.

And play she will, but she has a budget of $10 that she allows herself to play.

Dougherty, too, enjoys a little lottery playtime as she gets excited to buy tickets when she returns to her home state of Minneapolis.

Very likely, having handed out their fair share of checks, both Otto and Dougherty are curious to get to experience what it may feel like to be on the other side one day.

Whether the awarder or the awardee, what a feeling indeed, as regardless of what side of the lottery one is on, both have their rewards.