PIERRE, S.D. - If this were a movie, nobody would believe it: A rancher struggling to eke out a living in one of the poorest corners of America claimed one of the biggest undivided jackpots in U.S. lottery history yesterday - $232 million - after buying the ticket in a town by the name of Winner.
After taxes, and opting for a lump sum, Neal Wanless, 23, will actually collect $88.5 million. He said he plans to use part of the money to repay the kindness townspeople have shown his family - and buy his horse, Eleanor, more room to roam.
"I want to thank the Lord for giving me this opportunity and blessing me with this great fortune," he said, wearing a big cowboy hat and a huge grin. "I will not squander it."
Wanless, who is single, lives with his mother and father on the family's 320-acre ranch near Mission, where they raise cattle, sheep, and horses. They don't own a phone, a mobile home of theirs was repossessed last year, and records show they have fallen $3,552 behind in their property taxes.
Wanless bought $15 worth of tickets to the May 27 30-state Powerball drawing while at a convenience store in Winner to buy livestock feed.
The Wanless home is in a grove of trees in Todd County, home to the Rosebud Sioux Tribe and the nation's seventh-poorest county in 2007, according to the Census Bureau.
"I hope they enjoy their money," said county assessor Cathy Vrbka, a family friend. "They work hard, backbreaking hard work."
Wanless' father, Arlen, 54, has made a living in recent years mainly by buying and selling scrap metal, but his fortunes dropped with the price of iron, said Dan Clark, an auctioneer from Winner.
The younger Wanless told lottery officials he spent the last week working on the ranch and intends to continue that lifestyle, albeit on a larger piece of land. Lottery officials said he told them that he recently told his horse, "It'd be nice if we go for a longer ride than usual on a bigger ranch of our own."
Wanless said, "My family has been helped by the community, and I intend to repay that help many times over." He gave no details.
An Oregon family turned $40 worth of tickets into a $340 million Powerball prize in 2005, and at least four other winners collected larger jackpots than Wanless' prize.
The store where Wanless bought the winning ticket will get a $50,000 bonus.