On a wet, blustery day in the state's capital, Francisco Campos, a 44-year-old Stockton sign maker, found the gold at the end of the rainbow in a television studio Saturday, winning the biggest jackpot in the six-month history of the California Lottery--$6.38 million.
Campos was one of three Californians who became millionaires in consecutive turns at the "Big Spin" wheel during the taping of the 21st weekly edition of the lottery's giveaway program at the Cal Expo fairgrounds.
The Mexican-born Campos' jackpot eclipsed the previous record winnings of Eric Daily, a supermarket clerk from Thousand Oaks who won $6.3 million Feb. 1.
No one had won the grand prize--which starts at $3 million and increases by $65,000 each time a contestant fails to win it--in the two previous "Big Spin" shows.
But Saturday, a few minutes after a tearful Campos was led offstage by his stunned, beaming friends and family, John Long of Bakersfield, a 36-year-old salesman for an engineering company, repeated the feat, spinning for a $3-million grand prize on the big green and gold wheel.
Earlier, Linda McBride, 45, a Mill Valley housewife, had preceded Campos to the wheel. Clutching a prized stuffed pig, a four-leaf clover and a tiny statuette of a Hindu god for good luck, McBride spun the wheel for a $1-million jackpot.
"Three in a row--that's beyond all odds," said "Big Spin" host Geoff Edwards.
Big Annual Check
After 20% of his winnings are deducted for federal taxes, Campos next week will receive the first of 20 annual checks for $255,200.
Relatives had to tell his wife, Rosie, that Campos had won the big prize, even after she ran to the stage to congratulate him. "I didn't catch on until afterwards," she said.
The jackpot is certain to change the lives of the couple, their son Frank and several other members of the tightly knit Roman Catholic family--including Campos' 62-year-old mother, Lupe, with whom he headed north to the United States from Mexicali in 1961.
Campos said one of his first plans for his new-found riches was to buy his mother a house. "I'm just going to take care of my family and take a little time to think it over," he said. "Maybe I'll invest it in banks or a business."
Lottery officials, embarrassed by the discovery that two earlier winners of big jackpots were illegal aliens, took Campos aside as soon as he walked offstage to inquire about his immigration status. He assured them he was a resident alien with proper documentation.
The Right Answer
"Phew," said John Schade, a lottery publicist. "That's all we wanted to know."
The record winnings may buy Campos a respite from a life of desperately hard work.
He arrived in California at 17, virtually penniless, he said, and went to work in the fields of the Central Valley, picking tomatoes, apricots and cherries as the primary breadwinner for his mother, five brothers and three sisters, all of whom eventually followed him to the United States.
Later, he worked in Stockton's canneries before taking a job three years ago with Ad-Art, a sign-making company in the central California city.
When his co-workers there bid him good luck Friday, they told Campos they did not expect to see him back at work.
By mid-morning Saturday, he did not sound too certain of his intentions himself. "I've got to go back and talk to them," Campos said. "Maybe I need a little time off."
No Time for Tamales
Rosie Campos, however, was quite sure she would not be returning to her job as a tamale packer at a Hormel Co. cannery in Stockton. She would rather work in the garden of the new home she hopes to buy.
With Saturday's winners, the lottery has given away nearly $92 million to "Big Spin" contestants, making 35 people millionaires. Including instant winnings, more than $575 million in prizes has been awarded since the games began Oct. 3, and more than 1.25 billion $1 tickets have been sold.
The other big winner in Saturday's "Big Spin" was Melvin Hudspeth, 35, of Hollywood, who won $100,000. Three contestants won $50,000 and eight won the smallest prize on the wheel, $10,000.