NEW: A retired couple from Red Bud, Illinois, holds the third Mega Millions ticket
NEW: Merle and Pat Butler come forward after hiring financial advisers and an attorney
Rumors about the winner spread through the southern Illinois town for two weeks
Kansas and Maryland lottery officials allow their winners to stay anonymous, but not Illinois
Merle and Pat Butler, lifetime residents of Red Bud, Illinois, hold the third winning ticket worth $218 million in last month’s Mega Millions lottery, officials announced Wednesday.
The retired couple came forward in their hometown’s City Hall on Wednesday after spending the past two weeks hiring “real good financial advisers” and a lawyer to help them manage their new fortune: $158 million after taxes.
“Instead of thinking of things we could spend it on, we’ve been thinking of ways to invest it,” Merle Butler, 65, said Wednesday.
Pat Butler, 62, said that keeping their secret was easier because they’ve been out of town most of the time since they won.
“We were meeting with a lot of people, just not here in town,” she said
The Butlers are retired computer analysts. “I was retired, and it looks like I’ve got another full-time job,” Merle Butler said.
He realized they won as he watched the 10 o’clock news March 30, soon after the drawing.
“The first thing I spotted was I had a mega ball number,” he said. At least he won something, he thought.
“The further I went, the more they matched,” he said. But it took time for reality to sink in.
“So, after I looked at it for a couple of minutes, I turned to my wife, who was right there with me, and I says, ‘We won,’ ” he said. “And she kind of looked at me funny, and I says, ‘No, we won,’ and then she started giggling, and she giggled for about four hours, I think.”
The Butlers decided to keep it a secret. “I figured the quieter I keep it, the better we are to get it set up and get it going before we did the claim,” Merle Butler said.
It may have helped that it was April Fools weekend when he was confronted at the local bank, where he went there to put the ticket in their lock box.
“Oh, I guess you come over to put your ticket away?” someone at the bank asked them.
“I says, ‘Yeah, I won this thing and got to get this thing out away.’ I just laughed it off, and she doesn’t know until right now that I really had that ticket in there,” he said.
Guessing who held the ticket was the community obsession for the past 18 days in Red Bud, according to Denise Metzger, manager of the Moto Mart convenience store where the winning ticket was sold.
Metzger and her staff members used the process of elimination to guess. “We’re watching to figure out who hasn’t been coming in,” she said Tuesday. “If they got the ticket and are making themselves scarce, that’s what we’ve been paying attention to.”
Mayor Tim Lowry sees the decision by the winner to have the announcement in his southern Illinois town as evidence it’s a Red Bud resident.
“Not knowing who it is, it seems like they want to make a splash in Red Bud,” Lowry said.
It probably didn’t help that the drawing happened on the eve of April Fools’ weekend, leading some locals to joke on Facebook and the sidewalk that they had the winning ticket. It kicked off more than two weeks of speculation around town and online.
But when Merle Butler spoke, they did not realize he was not joking.
“I answered most of the time truthfully, ‘Yes, I did,’ but they didn’t catch it,” Merle Butler said.
Red Bud locals commenting on a message board thread threw out several names of suspected winners.
“Names are just going around, we just need to wait and see when they come forward. Congrats to whoever it was!” one poster wrote.
“I really don’t care who won. I really don’t want to know, It wasn’t me so I could care less!!!” said another.
“I just hope it is someone that needs the money,” another commenter said.
Moto Mart, which has seen a two-fold rise in lottery ticket sales, also seems to be gossip central for lottery rumors.
One rumor floating there is that someone ordered 12 new Camaros from the local Chevrolet dealership, Metzger said. “That’s a big rumor. I had a big laugh about that one.”
The sales manager at Weir Chevrolet Buick GMC shot down that gossip. “They were Corvettes,” said Brandon Liefer.
“They were Corvettes,” said Brandon Liefer.
“I’m just messing with you,” Liefer added, clarifying that he has no clue who the new millionaire might be and they’ve not ordered new cars.
The mayor said the “windfall of money” could be a boostfor his farming community’s economy, but a person “can only buy so many groceries.”
The winner may find it tough to stay in a small town like Red Bud and avoid having their privacy invaded, he said.
Two other winning tickets were sold for the March 30 drawing that had a record $656 million pre-tax payout. Maryland and Kansas allowed their winners to remain unnamed, but Illinois requires them to come forward publicly.
The man and two women who shared ownership of the winning ticket in Maryland are public school employees who are known only as the “Three Amigos.” The elementary school teacher, a special education teacher, and an administrative worker said they plan to keep their fortune a secret – and keep working.
Metzger and her nine employees at Moto Mart collected their own payoff for selling the winning ticket. Their company gave them $50,000 to share from the $500,000 bonus paid to the store by the Illinois Lottery.