Couple Won Big at Lotto but Take It All in Stride

Times Staff Writer

OK, it's a little after midnight and you've just called the tape-recorded message that gives you the six numbers chosen that day in the weekly "Lotto 6/49" and gasp!--you find out you've hit all six. You've won millions.

Do you:

(a) Pass out?

(b) Begin celebrating wildly?

(c) Go to sleep because you've got a big bowling date the next day?

If the last answer sounds improbable, you haven't met Robert Bell, a retired postal service foreman from Inglewood who hit it big last weekend for $4,440,000 but has been taking it in smooth stride.

'Spend It Well'

Plans? Well, Bell and his wife, Evesta, who live comfortably in a gate-guarded town house complex, want to do some heavy-duty traveling. Bell last week quit a part-time county job overseeing the seizure of failed businesses. And Evesta Bell, a retired mail carrier, vows to "spend it, spend it well." But other than that, the husband said, "it's going to be pretty low-key."

For a man who has methodically played Lotto every week since the game's inception, Bell was more than low-key about the big news.

He and his wife were driving back from a visit to West Covina when they heard snatches of the day's winning numbers on the car radio. Bell, who plays the same numbers each week, thought he heard four of his--3, 5, 9 and 13. His wife thought she heard a fifth, 25.

It was late when they got home. Evesta Bell dialed the 24-hour number that provides Lotto information, hoping her husband's sixth number, 26, had been chosen.

It had.

"I was pretty happy," she said.

Bounced Off Ceiling

"Pretty happy?" her husband said, pointing his finger toward the living room ceiling. "We've already had it fixed. She bounced off it."

Evesta Bell began calling family members. Robert Bell headed upstairs. He had a big day coming up. A bowling tournament in San Diego. He had to be there by noon. He needed his rest.

"He went to sleep ," his wife said, still amazed. "I took two Valiums and I couldn't sleep."

Robert Bell shrugged. If it wasn't for sleep, the money wouldn't have come in.

Three of his winning numbers had come to him in a dream back in 1952 in Flint, Mich., in the days when illegal numbers rackets, not state lotteries, were king. And besides, nothing comes between Bell and bowling. After all, at 67 he still averages 172, down more than 20 pins from his best years but still a highly respectable figure.

Avid About Bowling

"He loves bowling better than he loves his name," his wife said.

"I don't like stores, I don't like to go shopping--"Bell began to confess.

"Honey, you don't have to worry," his wife said, "you can hire someone to do your shopping for you."

The Bells are still waiting for their first check--$177,600, an amount they will receive annually for 20 years after taxes are deducted from their winnings. Bell was one of two players to pick all six numbers last weekend, splitting the $8,880,000 jackpot with an Oakland woman. They became the 11th-biggest winners in Lotto history, but Bell's prize stands as the second-biggest ever won by a Los Angeles County resident. A Pomona machinist won $7,940,000 in February.

The Bells spent the last week fielding an estimated 500 phone calls from well-wishing friends. They have yet to experience a rush of calls from people with business propositions or investment ideas.

'I'll Be the Adviser'

Eventually, "I am going to have to consult with someone about investments," Robert Bell said.

"For the time being, I'll be the adviser," Evesta Bell said.

Robert Bell may wind up doing it himself. Now freed of his part-time job, he is going to do something that has long tugged at him. He is going to go back to college and put in the year and a half he needs to complete his degree.

It is in accounting.

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