PIERRE, S.D. – A 23-year-old rancher whose family has fallen behind in their taxes and recently had a mobile home repossessed claimed a $232.1 million Powerball jackpot on Friday, one of the largest undivided jackpots in U.S. lottery history.
Neal Wanless, who lives on his family's 320-acre ranch near Mission, S.D., bought the winning ticket in the nearby town of Winner late last month during a trip to buy livestock feed. He will take home $88.5 million in a lump sum payment after taxes are deducted.
Wanless, who did not speak publicly about the win until Friday, spoke for only a couple of minutes at a ceremony Friday, reading a prepared statement. He was wearing a big black cowboy hat and had a huge grin on his face during the brief ceremony.
"I want to thank the Lord for giving me this opportunity and blessing me with this great fortune. I will not squander it," he said.
Wanless said he intends to use the money to help those in need. "My family has been helped by the community and I intend to repay that help many times over."
He told lottery officials that since winning, he has spent his time preparing to bale hay and doing other jobs around his family's ranch.
Wanless said he intends to continue ranching, albeit on a larger plot of land. He said he recently told his horse, Eleanor, that "It'd be nice if we go for a longer ride than usual on a bigger ranch of our own."
Wanless' is among the highest undivided lottery jackpot wins in U.S. history. An Oregon family turned $40 worth of tickets into $340 million Powerball prize in 2005, and at least four other winners won larger jackpots than Wanless'.
Friends and neighbors described the Wanlesses as a hardworking family with little money.
"I hope they enjoy their money," said county assessor Cathy Vrbka, a family friend. "They work hard, backbreaking hard work."
Dave Assman, who owns farmland next to the Wanless' ranch, said he's happy they won't have to worry about money again.
"They've been real short on finances for a long time," Assman said. "They are from real meager means, I guess you'd say."
The Wanlesses raised cattle, sheep and horses on their ranch is in eastern Todd County, the nation's seventh-poorest county in 2007, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Much of the county is tribal land governed by the Rosebud Sioux Tribe.
But neighbors said Arlen Wanless, 54, has made a living in recent years mainly by buying and selling scrap metal.
Dan Clark, an auctioneer from Winner and a friend of more than two decades, said Arlen Wanless helped him at many auctions by buying things no one else wanted.
"Over the last 20 years, Arlen's bailed me out a lot of times," Clark said.
He said Arlen Wanless had trouble earning money when the price of iron dropped.
Todd County records show that the family owes $3,552 in property taxes on the 360 acres of land for taxes payable in 2007, 2008 and 2009. The family had a mobile home repossessed last year.
Since word spread that the Wanless family had won the lottery jackpot, the gate to the dirt driveway that leads to the family home has been closed and padlocked.
The winning ticket was purchased at the Ampride convenience store, which will get a $50,000 bonus for selling the lucky ticket. Sharon Ulmer, manager of the store said she is glad the Wanless family won.
"From what I understand they don't have a lot, so the money definitely went to a good place," Ulmer said. "I know it went to a good home. They can use it."