Chilean nanny claims Big Game lottery prize
April 14, 1999
BRAINTREE, Massachusetts (CNN) -- Since winning the largest lottery payoff ever to a single person, a Chilean immigrant has only purchased one major item, a navy blue dress.
Maria Grasso, self-described as "down to earth," wore it to a state lottery press conference Wednesday when she came forward to claim the $197 million Big Game jackpot.
"I haven't had time to think clearly," she said. "I couldn't believe it."
That's understandable, considering the odds. Her winning ticket was a 76 million-to-1 shot.
With tickets sold in Massachusetts, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan and Virginia, the Big Game jackpot rose to $197 million when no one won the twice-a-week drawing from February 2 until April 6.
Grasso decided to take the money in a lump sum of $104 million -- $70.2 million after taxes -- instead of in 26 annual installments.
The divorced mother of two said she is not sure what she will do with the money, but she mentioned her family and handicapped children as priorities.
Worked for millionaire before becoming one
Until she quit last week, Grasso worked for the family of Chris Gabrieli, a Boston venture capitalist who ran for Congress last year. Since 1996, she has lived in the family's Beacon Hill townhouse and looked after Gabrieli's children.
"She's the kind of person who deserves a good turn in life," said Gabrieli, who is worth somewhere between $25 million and $125 million himself, according to campaign records.
Grasso bought the winning ticket at a grocery store near baseball's Fenway Park while shopping for the family.
"There was a few people buying tickets. And I see the big prize, $197 million. And I say, I'll take a chance," said. Grasso, who does not often play the lottery.
She said she chose the winning numbers at random. With the winning ticket beside her bed, she had difficulty sleeping the night she won.
"At first I couldn't believe that it could be," Grasso said. "There are so many million chances."
One of six children, Grasso came to the United States in 1971, earned her high school equivalency diploma in 1976 and became a U.S. citizen in 1984. She has worked as a teaching assistant for the mentally handicapped.
'A chance for me to keep helping'
"This has been my priority, to work with children, special needs children," she said. "I think this will be a chance for me to keep helping."
She also will be able to help her family -- both her two grown children and her relatives in Chile.
Grasso said she waited until Wednesday to come forward because she needed time to obtain a lawyer and clear her head.
During that time, rumors abounded that the winner was a Nigerian immigrant cab driver. After colleagues at the man's taxi company spread word the driver had won the jackpot, the man got so much attention that he had to hire a lawyer to deny he was the winner.
"I felt sorry for him," Grasso said.
The nation's biggest jackpot was $295 million, but that was split last July by 13 Ohio machinists who pooled their ticket purchases.
Boston Bureau Chief Bill Delaney contributed to this report.
And the $190 million number is: 22-44-12-17-33 and 25
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